1. Neuronal activity results in local elevation of extracellular K+ concentration ([K+]0). 2. Using the patch-clamp technique in the whole-cell configuration, we investigated whether extracellular K+ activates non-voltage-operated Ca2+ channels in pyramidal cells cultured from rat embryonic hippocampi. 3. K+ (12 mM) reversibly activated a sustained inward current at a holding potential of -100 mV. Membrane conductance and variance of noise were significantly increased by K+. This current could be observed at membrane potentials negative to +60 mV. 4. Inhibitors of inward rectifier K+ channels and hyperpolarization-induced cation current reduced the current only at potentials negative to -50 mV. 5. The K+-induced current was activiated in Na+-free but not in Ca2+-free medium, did not depend on cytosolic [Cl-], and was blocked by Cd2+ but not by organic channel inhibitors. 6. Half-maximal activation of the current (at -100 mV) was attained at [K+]0 ≃ 20 mM. 7. The current is similar to I(gl), a K+-induced Ca2+ current described in glomerulosa cells. It was also present in pyramidal cells from prefrontal cortex but not in hippocampal bipolar and glial cells. 8. Activation of K+-induced Ca2+ current may elevate cytoplasmic [Ca2+] at [K+]0 levels which are insufficent to activate voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels.
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