In Drosophila melanogaster muscles and neuronal cell bodies at least four different potassium currents have been identified whose activity shapes the electrical properties of these cells. Potassium currents also control repolarization of presynaptic terminals and, therefore, exert a major effect on transmitter release and synaptic plasticity. However, because of the small size of presynaptic terminals in Drosophila, it has not been possible to analyze the potassium currents they express. As a first approach to characterizing the ionic currents present at presynaptic motor terminals of Drosophila larvae, we recorded synaptic currents at the neuromuscular junction. From the alterations in evoked synaptic currents caused by various drugs and by mutations known to affect potassium currents in other tissues, we suggest that the repolarizing mechanism in presynaptic terminals consists of at least four distinct currents. One is affected by aminopyridines or Sh mutations, a second component is affected by the slo mutation, a third is sensitive to quinidine and one or more additional components are blocked by tetraethylammonium. Depolarization depends on a presynaptic calcium current, which displays only slight voltage-dependent inactivation. Because the mechanism of repolarization exerts a major effect on synaptic activity, this analysis provides a framework for further genetic and molecular dissection of the basic processes involved in the regulation of transmitter release.

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