Using the patch-clamp technique, we have identified two types of Ca(2+)-activated K+ (K(Ca)) channels in the human leukemic T cell line. Jurkat. Substances that elevate the intracellular Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i), such as ionomycin or the mitogenic lectin phytohemagglutinin (PHA), as well as whole-cell dialysis with pipette solutions containing elevated [Ca2+]i, activate a voltage-independent K+ conductance. Unlike the voltage-gated (type n) K+ channels in these cells, the majority of K(Ca) channels are insensitive to block by charybdotoxin (CTX) or 4-aminopyridine (4-AP), but are highly sensitive to block by apamin (Kd less than 1 nM). Channel activity is strongly dependent on [Ca2+]i, suggesting that multiple Ca2+ binding sites may be involved in channel opening. The Ca2+ concentration at which half of the channels are activated is 400 nM. These channels show little voltage dependence over a potential range of -100 to 0 mV and have a unitary conductance of 4-7 pS in symmetrical 170 mM K+. In the presence of 10 nM apamin, a less prevalent type of K(Ca) channel with a unitary conductance of 40-60 pS can be observed. These larger-conductance channels are sensitive to block by CTX. Pharmacological blockade of K(Ca) channels and voltage-gated type n channels inhibits oscillatory Ca2+ signaling triggered by PHA. These results suggest that K(Ca) channels play a supporting role during T cell activation by sustaining dynamic patterns of Ca2+ signaling.

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