Fluctuation Analysis in Nonstationary Conditions: Single Ca2+ Channel Current in Pyramidal Neurons.

05 Feb 2019

Fluctuation analysis is a method that allows measurement of the single-channel current of ion channels even when it is too small to be resolved directly with the patch-clamp technique. This is the case for voltage-gated calcium channels. They are present in all mammalian central neurons, controlling presynaptic release of transmitter, postsynaptic signaling, and synaptic integration. The amplitudes of their single-channel currents in a physiological concentration of extracellular calcium, however, are small and not well determined. But measurement of this quantity is essential for estimating numbers of functional voltage-gated calcium channels in the membrane and the size of channel-associated calcium signaling domains, and for understanding the stochastic nature of calcium signaling. Here, we recorded the voltage-gated calcium channel current in nucleated patches from layer 5 pyramidal neurons in rat neocortex, in physiological external calcium (1-2 mM). The ensemble-averaging of current responses required for conventional fluctuation analysis proved impractical because of the rapid rundown of calcium channel currents. We therefore developed a more robust method, using mean current fitting of individual current responses and band-pass filtering. Furthermore, voltage-ramp stimulation proved useful. We validated the accuracy of the method by analyzing simulated data. At an external calcium concentration of 1 mM, and a membrane potential of -20 mV, we found that the average single-channel current amplitude was ∼0.04 pA, increasing to 0.065 pA at 2 mM external calcium, and 0.12 pA at 5 mM. The relaxation time constant of the fluctuations was in the range 0.2-0.8 ms. The results are relevant to understanding the stochastic properties of dendritic Ca2+ spikes in neocortical layer 5 pyramidal neurons. With the reported method, single-channel current amplitude of native voltage-gated calcium channels can be resolved accurately despite conditions of unstable rundown.