Inactivation of slow Ca2+ channels was studied in intact twitch skeletal muscle fibers of the frog by using the three-microelectrode voltage-clamp technique. Hypertonic sucrose solutions were used to abolish contraction. The rate constant of decay of the slow Ca2+ current (ICa) remained practically unchanged when the recording solution containing 10 mM Ca2+ was replaced by a Ca2+-buffered solution (126 mM Ca-maleate). The rate constant of decay of ICa monotonically increased with depolarization although the corresponding time integral of ICa followed a bell-shaped function. The replacement of Ca2+ by Ba2+ did not result in a slowing of the rate of decay of the inward current nor did it reduce the degree of steady-state inactivation. The voltage dependence of the steady-state inactivation curve was steeper in the presence of Ba2+. In two-pulse experiments with large conditioning depolarizations ICa inactivation remained unchanged although Ca2+ influx during the prepulse greatly decreased. Dantrolene (12 microM) increased mechanical threshold at all pulse durations tested, the effect being more prominent for short pulses. Dantrolene did not significantly modify ICa decay and the voltage dependence of inactivation. These results indicate that in intact muscle fibers Ca2+ channels inactivate in a voltage-dependent manner through a mechanism that does not require Ca2+ entry into the cell.

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