A slowly inactivating, low-threshold K+ current has been implicated in the regulation of state transitions and repetitive activity in striatal medium spiny neurons. However, the molecular identity of the channels underlying this current and their biophysical properties remain to be clearly determined. Because previous work had suggested this current arose from Kv1 family channels, high-affinity toxins for this family were tested for their ability to block whole cell K+ currents activated by depolarization of acutely isolated neurons. α-Dendrotoxin, which blocks channels containing Kv1.1, Kv1.2, or Kv1.6 subunits, decreased currents evoked by depolarization. Three other Kv1 family toxins that lack a high affinity for Kv1.2 subunits, r-agitoxin-2, dendrotoxin-K, and r-margatoxin, failed to significantly reduce currents, implicating channels with Kv1.2 subunits. RT-PCR results confirmed the expression of Kv1.2 mRNA in identified medium spiny neurons. Currents attributable to Kv1.2 channels activated rapidly, inactivated slowly, and recovered from inactivation slowly. In the subthreshold range (ca. -60 mV), these currents accounted for as much as 50% of the depolarization-activated K+ current. Moreover, their rapid activation and relatively slow deactivation suggested that they contribute to spike afterpotentials regulating repetitive discharge. This inference was confirmed in current-clamp recordings from medium spiny neurons in the slice preparation where Kv1.2 blockade reduced first-spike latency and increased discharge frequency evoked from hyperpolarized membrane potentials resembling the "down-state" found in vivo. These studies establish a clear functional role for somato-dendritic Kv1.2 channels in the regulation of state transitions and repetitive discharge in striatal medium spiny neurons.
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