Dopamine elicits alternating bursts of activity in the respiratory interneurones of the snail Lymnaea stagnalis. One of the neurones (VD4) was isolated in culture, and the effects of dopamine on both membrane voltage and current were studied utilising the whole-cell tight-seal recording technique. Dopamine had little effect on resting potentials near -60 mV, nor did it affect spike threshold or input resistance measured near -60 mV. However, it did alter the excitability of the cell, changing the response to current injection from one of repetitive spiking to one of rapid accommodation. Under voltage-clamp, VD4 responded to dopamine (EC50 = 92 nmol l-1) with increased net outward current at all potentials more positive than -60 mV. This was due primarily to an increase in voltage-gated potassium current and a decrease in calcium current. A reduction of Cd(2+)-sensitive outward current, possibly calcium-gated potassium current, was also evident at potentials more positive than +60 mV. The physiological actions of dopamine on these cells in vivo are consistent with the inhibitory mechanisms presented in this study.

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