1. Acetylcholine causes a rise of intracellular Ca2+ in perisynaptic Schwann cells (PSCs) of the frog neuromuscular junction. The signalling pathway was characterized using the fluorescent Ca2+ indicator fluo-3 and fluorescence microscopy. 2. Nicotinic antagonists had no effect on Ca2+ responses evoked by ACh and no Ca2+ responses were evoked with the nicotinic agonist nicotine. The muscarinic agonists muscarine and oxotremorine-M induced Ca2+ signals in PSCs. 3. Ca2+ responses remained unchanged when extracellular Ca2+ was removed, indicating that they are due to the release of Ca2+ from internal stores. Incubation with pertussis toxin did not alter the Ca2+ signals induced by muscarine, hut did block depression of transmitter release induced by adenosine and prevented Ca2+ responses in PSCs induced by adenosine. 4. The general muscarinic antagonists atropine, quinuclidinyl benzilate and N-methylscopolamine failed to block Ca2+ responses to muscarinic agonists. Atropine (at 20,000-fold excess concentration) also failed to reduce the proportion of cells responding to a threshold muscarine concentration sufficient to cause responses in less than 50% of cells. Only the allosteric, non-specific blocker, gallamine (1-10 μM) was effective in blocking muscarine-induced Ca2+ responses. 5. In preparations denervated 7 days prior to experiments, low concentrations of atropine reversibly and completely blocked Ca2+ responses to muscarine. 6. The lack of blockade by general muscarinic antagonists in innervated, in situ preparations suggests that muscarinic Ca2+ responses at PSCs are not mediated by any of the five known muscarinic receptors or that post-translational modification prevented antagonist binding.
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