Key points: CaV2.1 channels constitute a dominant Ca2+ entry pathway into brain neurons, triggering downstream Ca2+-dependent processes such as neurotransmitter release. CaV2.1 is itself modulated by Ca2+, resulting in activity-dependent enhancement of channel opening termed Ca2+-dependent facilitation (CDF). Real-time Ca2+ imaging and Ca2+ uncaging here reveal that CDF turns out to be strikingly faster, more Ca2+ sensitive, and larger than anticipated on previous grounds. Robust resolution of the quantitative profile of CDF enables deduction of a realistic biophysical model for this process. These results suggest that CaV2.1 CDF would figure most prominently in short-term synaptic plasticity and cerebellar Purkinje cell rhythmicity. CaV2.1 (P-type) voltage-gated Ca2+ channels constitute a major source of neuronal Ca2+ current, strongly influencing rhythmicity and triggering neurotransmitter release throughout the central nervous system. Fitting with such stature among Ca2+ entry pathways, CaV2.1 is itself feedback regulated by intracellular Ca2+, acting through calmodulin to facilitate channel opening. The precise neurophysiological role of this calcium-dependent facilitation (CDF) remains uncertain, however, in large measure because the very magnitude, Ca2+ dependence and kinetics of CDF have resisted quantification by conventional means. Here, we utilize the photo-uncaging of Ca2+ with CaV2.1 channels fluxing Li+ currents, so that voltage-dependent activation of channel gating is no longer conflated with Ca2+ entry, and CDF is then driven solely by light-induced increases in Ca2+. By using this strategy, we now find that CDF can be unexpectedly large, enhancing currents by as much as twofold at physiological voltages. CDF is steeply Ca2+ dependent, with a Hill coefficient of approximately two, a half-maximal effect reached by nearly 500 nm Ca2+, and Ca2+ on/off kinetics in the order of milliseconds to tens of milliseconds. These properties were established for both native P-type currents in cerebellar Purkinje neurons, as well as their recombinant channel counterparts under heterologous expression. Such features suggest that CDF of CaV2.1 channels may substantially enhance the regularity of rhythmic firing in cerebellar Purkinje neurons, where regularity is believed crucial for motor coordination. In addition, this degree of extensive CDF would be poised to exert large order-of-magnitude effects on short-term synaptic plasticity via rapid modulation of presynaptic Ca2+ entry.
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