Currents generated by depolarizing voltage pulses were recorded in neurons from the pyramidal cell layer of the CA1 region of rat or guinea pig hippocampus with single electrode voltage-clamp or tight-seal whole-cell voltage-clamp techniques. In neurons in situ in slices, and in dissociated neurons, subtraction of currents generated by identical depolarizing voltage pulses before and after exposure to tetrodotoxin revealed a small, persistent current after the transient current. These currents could also be recorded directly in dissociated neurons in which other ionic currents were effectively suppressed. It was concluded that the persistent current was carried by sodium ions because it was blocked by TTX, decreased in amplitude when extracellular sodium concentration was reduced, and was not blocked by cadmium. The amplitude of the persistent sodium current varied with clamp potential, being detectable at potentials as negative as -70 mV and reaching a maximum at approximately -40 mV. The maximum amplitude at -40 mV in 21 cells in slices was -0.34 +/- 0.05 nA (mean +/- 1 SEM) and -0.21 +/- 0.05 nA in 10 dissociated neurons. Persistent sodium conductance increased sigmoidally with a potential between -70 and -30 mV and could be fitted with the Boltzmann equation, g = gmax/(1 + exp[(V' - V)/k)]). The average gmax was 7.8 +/- 1.1 nS in the 21 neurons in slices and 4.4 +/- 1.6 nS in the 10 dissociated cells that had lost their processes indicating that the channels responsible are probably most densely aggregated on or close to the soma. The half-maximum conductance occurred close to -50 mV, both in neurons in slices and in dissociated neurons, and the slope factor (k) was 5-9 mV. The persistent sodium current was much more resistant to inactivation by depolarization than the transient current and could be recorded at greater than 50% of its normal amplitude when the transient current was completely inactivated. Because the persistent sodium current activates at potentials close to the resting membrane potential and is very resistant to inactivation, it probably plays an important role in the repetitive firing of action potentials caused by prolonged depolarizations such as those that occur during barrages of synaptic inputs into these cells.

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