Single-channel patch-clamp techniques were used to identify and characterize a Ca2+-activated nonspecific cation channel (CAN channel) on insect olfactory receptor neurones (ORNs) from antennae of male Antheraea polyphemus. The CAN channel was found both in acutely isolated ORNs from developing pupae and in membrane vesicles from mature ORNs that presumably originated from inner dendritic segments. Amplitude histograms of the CAN single-channel currents presented well-defined peaks corresponding to at least four channel substates each having a conductance of about 16 pS. Simultaneous gating of the substates was achieved by intracellular Ca2+ with an EC50 value of about 80 nmoll−1. Activity of the CAN channel could be blocked by application of amiloride (IC50 <100nmoll−1). Moreover, in the presence of 1μmoll−1 Ca2+, opening of the CAN channel was totally suppressed by 10 μmoll−1 cyclic GMP, whereas ATP (1 mmol l−1) was without effect. We suggest that the CAN channel plays a specific role in modulation of cell excitability and in shaping the voltage response of ORNs.

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