Voltage-dependent calcium channels are widely distributed in excitable membranes and are involved in the regulation of many cellular functions. These channels can be modulated by neurotransmitters and drugs. There is one particular type of calcium channel in cardiac cells (L-type) whose gating is affected in different ways by beta-adrenoceptor and 1,4-dihydropyridine agonists. We have analysed single calcium channel currents (i) in myocytes from rat hearts in the absence and presence of isoproterenol or 8-bromo-cAMP. We have found that both compounds have similar effects on calcium channel properties. They increase the overall open state probability (po) of individual calcium channels while i remains unaffected. Analysis of the gating kinetics of calcium channels showed: a slight increase in the mean open times of calcium channels, a reduction in time intervals between bursts of channel openings, an increase in burst length and a prominent reduction in failures of calcium channels to open upon depolarization. These kinetic changes caused by isoproterenol and 8-bromo-cAMP can account for the increase in po. Since the macroscopic calcium current, ICa, can be described by ICa = N X po X i, the increase in po accounts for the well-known increase in ICa by beta-adrenergic catecholamines. Cyclic AMP-dependent phosphorylation of calcium channels is a likely metabolic step involved in this modulation. Another class of drug that modulates calcium channel gating is the 1,4-dihydropyridines which can either enhance or reduce ICa, either by prolonging the open state of the channels or by facilitating the inactivated state. Both effects depend strongly on membrane potential and are independent of cyclic AMP-dependent phosphorylation reactions.

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