We used the whole cell patch clamp technique to study transient outward currents of single rabbit atrial cells. A large transient current, IA, was blocked by 4-aminopyridine (4AP) and/or by depolarized holding potentials. After block of IA, a smaller transient current remained. It was completely blocked by nisoldipine, cadmium, ryanodine, or caffeine, which indicates that all of the 4AP-resistant current is activated by the calcium transient that causes contraction. Neither calcium-activated potassium current nor calcium-activated nonspecific cation current appeared to contribute to the 4AP-resistant transient current. The transient current disappeared when ECl was made equal to the pulse potential; it was present in potassium-free internal and external solutions. It was blocked by the anion transport blockers SITS and DIDS, and the reversal potential of instantaneous current-voltage relations varied with extracellular chloride as predicted for a chloride-selective conductance. We concluded that the 4AP-resistant transient outward current of atrial cells is produced by a calcium-activated chloride current like the current ICl(Ca) of ventricular cells (1991. Circulation Research. 68:424-437). ICl(Ca) in atrial cells demonstrated outward rectification, even when intracellular chloride concentration was higher than extracellular. When ICa was inactivated or allowed to recover from inactivation, amplitudes of ICl(Ca) and ICa were closely correlated. The results were consistent with the view that ICl(Ca) does not undergo independent inactivation. Tentatively, we propose that ICl(Ca) is transient because it is activated by an intracellular calcium transient. Lowering extracellular sodium increased the peak outward transient current. The current was insensitive to the choice of sodium substitute. Because a recently identified time-independent, adrenergically activated chloride current in heart is reduced in low sodium, these data suggest that the two chloride currents are produced by different populations of channels.

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