Expression of a linear current-voltage (I-V) relationship (passive) K + membrane conductance is a hallmark of mature hippocampal astrocytes. However, the molecular identifications of the K+ channels underlying this passive conductance remain unknown. We provide the following evidence supporting significant contribution of the two-pore domain K + channel (K2P) isoforms, TWIK-1 and TREK-1, to this conductance. First, both passive astrocytes and the cloned rat TWIK-1 and TREK-1 channels expressed in CHO cells conduct significant amounts of Cs+ currents, but vary in their relative PCs/PK permeability, 0.43, 0.10, and 0.05, respectively. Second, quinine, which potently inhibited TWIK-1 (IC50=85 μM) and TREK-1 (IC50=41 μM) currents, also inhibited astrocytic passive conductance by 58% at a concentration of 200 μM. Third, a moderate sensitivity of passive conductance to low extracellular pH (6.0) supports a combined expression of acid-insensitive TREK-1, and to a lesser extent, acid-sensitive TWIK-1. Fourth, the astrocyte passive conductance showed low sensitivity to extracellular Ba2+, and extracellular Ba2+ blocked TWIK-1 channels at an IC50 of 960 μM and had no effect on TREK-1 channels. Finally, an immunocytochemical study showed colocalization of TWIK-1 and TREK-1 proteins with the astrocytic markers GLAST and GFAP in rat hippocampal stratum radiatum. In contrast, another K2P isoform TASK-1 was mainly colocalized with the neuronal marker NeuN in hippocampal pyramidal neurons and was expressed at a much lower level in astrocytes. These results support TWIK-1 and TREK-1 as being the major components of the long-sought K+ channels underlying the passive conductance of mature hippocampal astrocytes.
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