Inward barium current (IBa) through voltage-gated calcium channels was recorded from chick cochlear hair cells using the whole-cell clamp technique. IBa was sensitive to dihydropyridines and insensitive to the peptide toxins omega-agatoxin IVa, omega-conotoxin GVIa, and omega-conotoxin MVIIC. Changing the holding potential over a -40 to -80 mV range had no effect on the time course or magnitude of IBa nor did it reveal any inactivating inward currents. The activation of IBa was modeled with Hodgkin-Huxley m2 kinetics. The time constant of activation, tau m, was 550 microseconds at -30 mV and gradually decreased to 100 microseconds at +50 mV. A Boltzmann fit to the activation curve, m infinity, yielded a half activation voltage of -15 mV and a steepness factor of 7.8 mV. Opening and closing rate constants, alpha m and beta m, were calculated from tau m and m infinity, then fit with modified exponential functions. The H-H model derived by evaluating the exponential functions for alpha m and beta m not only provided an excellent fit to the time course of IBa activation, but was predictive of the time course and magnitude of the IBa tail current. No differences in kinetics or voltage dependence of activation of IBa were found between tall and short hair cells. We conclude that both tall and short hair cells of the chick cochlea predominantly, if not exclusively, express noninactivating L-type calcium channels. These channels are therefore responsible for processes requiring voltage-dependent calcium entry through the basolateral cell membrane, such as transmitter release and activation of Ca(2+)-dependent K+ channels.
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