1. The effects of ATP on neurons from guinea‐pig coeliac ganglia were studied to evaluate the possibility that this nucleotide acts as an excitatory neurotransmitter substance. 2. In experiments with intracellular microelectrodes, ATP (> or = 10 nM) depolarized coeliac neurons from the resting potential and produced an increase in the membrane conductance. These excitatory effects of ATP were observed in isolated coeliac ganglia, in acutely dissociated neurons or in cultured neurons. ATP also produced membrane conductance increases in neurons clamped at the resting potential using a single electrode voltage clamp. 3. When studied in the whole‐cell configuration of the patch clamp (intracellular Cs+ to block K+ currents; ‐50 mV holding potential), ATP evoked inward currents in a manner more potent and efficacious than acetylcholine (ACh). 4. Whole‐cell currents induced by ATP were inwardly rectifying and reversed at ‐13 mV in normal Na+ solutions. Changes in extracellular Na+ concentration altered the reversal potential in a manner predicted by the Goldman‐Hodgkin‐Katz bi‐ionic equation with a ratio of Na+ to Cs+ permeability (PNa/PCs) = 0.6. 5. Single channel currents were evoked by ATP in excised (outside‐out) patches. Current‐voltage relationships for single channel currents exhibited inward rectification. The mean single channel conductance was 22 pS at ‐50 mV. 6. Antagonists of ATP‐gated channels (suramin, Reactive Blue 2) reduced the effects of ATP but not ACh. 7. Antagonists at nicotinic receptors/ion channels (hexamethonium or tubocurarine) reduced the effects of ACh but not ATP. 8. Excitatory synaptic currents were observed in cultures of coeliac neurons. Synaptic currents possessed similar current‐voltage relationships to currents produced by ATP, were increased in frequency by K+ depolarization in a Ca(2+)‐dependent manner, and were selectively antagonized by ATP antagonists. 9. Local K+ depolarization of the ends of neurites evoked single channel currents characteristic of ATP in outside‐out patches when patches were positioned near the region of apparent synaptic contact but not when patches were positioned at remote regions. 10. The results suggest that ATP receptors are linked to ion channels and mediate excitatory synaptic transmission between coeliac neurons.
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