Although there is considerable evidence that depolarization of nerve cell terminals leads to the entry of Ca2+ and to the secretion of neurohormones and neurotransmitters, the details of how ionic currents control the release of neuroactive substances from nerve terminals are unknown. The small size of most nerve terminals has precluded direct analysis of membrane ionic currents and their influence on secretion. We now report that it is possible, using patch-clamp techniques, to study stimulus--secretion coupling in isolated peptidergic nerve terminals. Sinus gland terminals from Cardisoma are easily isolated following collagenase treatment and appear morphologically and electrically very similar to non-dissociated nerve endings. We have observed two types of single-channel currents not previously described. The first (‘f’) channel is activated by intracellular Na+ and the second (‘s’) by intracellular Ca2+. Both show little selectivity between Na+ and K+. In symmetrical K+, these cation channels have mean conductances of 69 and 213 pS, respectively. Furthermore, at least three types of Ca2+ channels can be reconstituted from nerve terminal membranes prepared from sinus glands. Nerve terminals can also be isolated from the rat neural lobe. These neurosecretosomes release oxytocin and vasopressin, in response to membrane depolarization, only in the presence of external Ca2+. The depolarization of the nerve endings is associated with an increase in intracellular free Ca2+ concentration and this increase, measured using a fluorescent indicator, is abolished by Ca2+ channel blockers. Channels similar in their properties to the f and s channels also exist in rat neural lobe endings. Since these channels have not been found in other neurones or neuronal structures they may be unique to peptidergic nerve terminals.

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