Spatially resolved measurements of intracellular free calcium and of the changes produced by excitatory amino acids were made in neurons isolated from adult mammalian brain. Extremely long-lasting (minutes) Ca2+ gradients were induced in the apical dendrites of hippocampal CA1 neurons after brief (1 to 3 seconds), local application of either glutamate or N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA). These gradients reflect the continuous flux of Ca2+ into the dendrite. The sustained gradients, but not the immediate transient response to the agonists, were prevented by prior treatment with the protein kinase C inhibitor sphingosine. Expression of the long-lasting Ca2+ gradients generally required a priming or conditioning stimulus with the excitatory agonist. The findings demonstrate a coupling between NMDA receptor activation and long-lasting intracellular Ca2+ elevation that could contribute to certain use-dependent modifications of synaptic responses in hippocampal CA1 neurons.
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