Previous work from this laboratory has indicated that TTX-sensitive sodium channels are involved in the hypoxia-induced inward current response of caudal hypothalamic neurons. Since this inward current underlies the depolarization and increased firing frequency observed in these cells during hypoxia, the present study utilized more detailed biophysical methods to specifically determine which sodium currents are responsible for this hypoxic activation. Caudal hypothalamic neurons from ~3-wk-old Sprague-Dawley rats were acutely dissociated and patch-damped in the voltage-clamp mode to obtain recordings from fast-inactivating and persistent (noninactivating) whole cell sodium currents. Using computer-generated activation and inactivation voltage protocols, rapidly inactivating sodium currents were analyzed during normal conditions and during a brief (3-6 min) period of severe hypoxia. In addition, voltage-ramp and extended-voltage-activation protocols were used to analyze persistent sodium currents during normal conditions and during hypoxia. A polarographic oxygen electrode determined that the level of oxygen in this preparation quickly dropped to 10 Torr within 2 min of initiation of hypoxia and stabilized at <0.5 Torr within 4 min. During hypoxia, the peak fast-inactivating sodium current was significantly increased throughout the entire activation range, and both the activation and inactivation values (V(1/2)) were negatively shifted. Furthermore both the voltage-ramp and extended-activation protocols demonstrated a significant increase in the persistent sodium current during hypoxia when compared with normoxia. These results demonstrate that both rapidly inactivating and persistent sodium currents are significantly enhanced by a brief hypoxic stimulus. Furthermore the hypoxic-induced increase in these currents most likely is the primary mechanism for the depolarization and increased firing frequency observed in caudal hypothalamic neurons during hypoxia. Since these neurons are important in modulating cardiorespiratory activity, the oxygen responsiveness of these sodium currents may play a significant role in the centrally mediated cardiorespiratory response to hypoxia.
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