Postnatal Development and Activation of L-Type Ca2+ Currents in Locus Ceruleus Neurons: Implications for a Role for Ca2+ in Central Chemosensitivity

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Little is known about the role of Ca2+ in central chemosensitive signaling. We use electrophysiology to examine the chemosensitive responses of tetrodotoxin (TTX)-insensitive oscillations and spikes in neurons of the locus ceruleus (LC), a chemosensitive region involved in respiratory control. We show that both TTX-insensitive spikes and oscillations in LC neurons are sensitive to L-type Ca2+channel inhibition and are activated by increased CO2/H+. Spikes appear to arise from L-type Ca2+ channels on the soma whereas oscillations arise from L-type Ca2+ channels that are distal to the soma. In HEPES-buffered solution (nominal absence of CO2/HCO3), acidification does not activate either oscillations or spikes. When CO2 is increased while extracellular pH is held constant by elevated HCO3, both oscillation and spike frequency increase. Furthermore, plots of both oscillation and spike frequency vs. intracellular [HCO3]show a strong linear correlation. Increased frequency of TTX-insensitive spikes is associated with increases in intracellular Ca2+ concentrations. Finally, both the appearance and frequency of TTX-insensitive spikes and oscillations increase over postnatal agesday 3–16. Our data suggest that 1) L-type Ca2+ currents in LC neurons arise from channel populations that reside in different regions of the neuron, 2) these L-type Ca2+ currents undergo significant postnatal development, and 3) the activity of these L-type Ca2+ currents is activated by increased CO2 through a HCO3-dependent mechanism. Thus the activity of L-type Ca2+ channels is likely to play a role in the chemosensitive response of LC neurons and may underlie significant changes in LC neuron chemosensitivity during neonatal development.