The weaver (wv) mutation affects the pore-forming region of the inwardly rectifying potassium channel (GIRK) leading to degeneration of cerebellar granule and midbrain dopaminergic neurons. The mutated channel (wvGIRK) loses its potassium selectivity, allowing sodium (Na+) and possibly calcium ions (Ca2+) to enter the cell. Here we performed whole cell patch-clamp recordings combined with microfluorometry to investigate possible differences in calcium ([Ca2+]i) dynamics in native dopaminergic neurons (expressing the wvGIRK2 subunits) in the midbrain slice preparation from homozygous weaver (wv/wv) and control (+/+) mice. Under resting conditions, [Ca2+]i was similar in wv/wv compared with +/+ neurons. Activation of wvGIRK2 channels by D2 and GABA B receptors increased [Ca2+]i in wv/wv neurons, whereas activation of wild-type channels decreased [Ca2+] i in +/+ neurons. The calcium rise in wv/wv neurons was abolished by antagonists of the voltage-gated calcium channels (VGCC); voltage clamp of the neuron at -60 mV; and hyperpolarization of the neuron to -80 mV or more, in current clamp, and was unaffected by TTX. Therefore we propose that wvGIRK2 channels in native dopamine neurons are not permeable to Ca2+, and when activated by D2 and GABAB receptors they mediate membrane depolarization and an indirect Ca2+ influx through VGCC rather than via wvGIRK2 channels. Such calcium influx may be the trigger for calcium-mediated excitotoxicity, responsible for selective neuronal death in weaver mice.
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