Neurons with the capacity to discharge at high rates - 'fast-spiking' (FS) neurons - are critical participants in central motor and sensory circuits. It is widely accepted that K+ channels with Kv3.1 or Kv3.2 subunits underlie fast, delayed-rectifier (DR) currents that endow neurons with this FS ability. Expression of these subunits in heterologous systems, however, yields channels that open at more depolarized potentials than do native Kv3 family channels, suggesting that they differ. One possibility is that native channels incorporate a subunit that modifies gating. Molecular, electrophysiological and pharmacological studies reported here suggest that a splice variant of the Kv3.4 subunit coassembles with Kv3.1 subunits in rat brain FS neurons. Coassembly enhances the spike repolarizing efficiency of the channels, thereby reducing spike duration and enabling higher repetitive spike rates. These results suggest that manipulation of K3.4 subunit expression could be a useful means of controlling the dynamic range of FS neurons.
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