Development of functional calcium channels in cultured avian photoreceptors

Evanna Gleason, University of California, Davis
Martin Wilson, University of California, Davis
Richard Nuccitelli, University of California, Davis


Vertebrate photoreceptors are unusual neurons in that they are capable of continuous calcium-mediated release of neurotransmitter (Trifonov, 1968; Hagins et al., 1970). In this study, we have examined the development and characteristics of calcium currents in chick cone cells placed in culture on embryonic day 8. Cone cells were identified by their lectin-binding properties, rhodopsin-like immunoreactivity, and the presence of an oil droplet. Using the whole-cell patch-clamp method, we have seen calcium currents in these cells after three days in culture, slightly before the appearance of synapses (Gleason & Wilson, 1989). Because cone calcium currents are blocked by cadmium and nifedipine but are enhanced by Bay K 8644, they most closely resemble L-type current (Nowycky et al., 1985). An unexpected feature of these currents is that their gating ranges varied widely between cells so that some cells showed the foot of their activation range at —70 mV and others as positive as —25 mV. Calcium imaging of fura-2 loaded cells was used to confirm the time course of calcium current development and describe the distribution of cytosolic calcium. As expected, depolarization of young cells failed to increase cytosolic calcium but in older cells an increase of threefold to fourfold was usually observed. Both at rest and during depolarization, most cone cells showed regional differences in internal calcium concentration. In the most mature cones, depolarization strongly elevated cytosolic calcium at the terminal end of the cell while producing a lesser change around the oil droplet and the ellipsoid region, suggesting that calcium channels are localized to the terminal. © 1992, Cambridge University Press. All rights reserved.