Voltage-gated currents in identified rat olfactory receptor neurons

Paul Q. Trombley, Gary L. Westbrook

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

68 Scopus citations


Whole-cell recording techniques were used to characterize voltage-gated membrane currents in neonatal rat olfactory receptor neurons (ORNs) in cell culture. Mature ORNs were identified in culture by their characteristic bipolar morphology, by retrograde labeling techniques, and by olfactory marker protein (OMP) immunoreactivity. ORNs did not have spontaneous activity, but fired action potentials to depolarizing current pulses. Action potentials were blocked by tetrodotoxin (TTX), which contrasts with the TTX-resistant action potentials in salamander olfactory receptor cells (e.g., Firestein and Werblin, 1987). Prolonged, suprathreshold current pulses evoked only a single action potential; however, repetitive firing up to 35 Hz could be elicited by a series of brief depolarizing pulses. Under voltage clamp, the TTX-sensitive sodium current had activation and inactivation properties similar to other excitable cells. In TTX and 20 mM barium, sustained inward current were evoked by voltage steps positive to -30 mV. This current was blocked by Cd (100 μM) and by nifedipine (IC50 = 368 nM) consistent with L-type calcium channels in other neurons. No T-type calcium current was observed. Voltage steps positive to -20 mV also evoked an outward current that did not inactivate during 100-msec depolarizations. Tail current analysis of this current was consistent with a selective potassium conductance. The outward current was blocked by external tetraethylammonium but was unaffected by Cd or 4-aminopyridine (4-AP) or by removal of external calcium. A transient outward current was not observed. The 3 voltage-dependent conductances in cultured rat ORNs appear to be sufficient for 2 essential functions: action potential generation and transmitter release. As a single odorant-activated channel can trigger an action potential (e.g., Lynch and Barry, 1989), the repetitive firing seen with brief depolarizing pulses suggests that ORNs do not integrate sensory input, but rather act as high-fidelity relays such that each opening of an odorant-activated channel reaches the olfactory bulb glomeruli as an action potential.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)435-444
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1991

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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