Fast-Activating Voltage- and Calcium-Dependent Potassium (BK) Conductances Promote Bursting in Pituitary Cells: A Dynamic Clamp Study

Joel Tabak, Maurizio Tomaiuolo, Arturo E. Gonzalez-Iglesias, Lorin S. Milescu, Richard Bertram

The electrical activity pattern of endocrine pituitary cells regulates their basal secretion level. Rat somatotrophs and lactotrophs exhibit spontaneous bursting and have high basal levels of hormone secretion, while gonadotrophs exhibit spontaneous spiking and have low basal hormone secretion. It has been pr oposed that the difference in electrical activity between bursting somatotrophs and spi king gonadotrophs is due to the presence of large conductance potassium (BK) channels on somatotrophs but not on gonadotrophs. This is one example where the role of an ion channel type may be clearly established. We demonstrate here that BK channel s indeed promote bursting activity in pituitary cells. Blocking BK channels in bursting lacto-somatotroph GH4C1 cells changes their firing activity to spiking, while further adding an artificial BK conductance via dynamic clamp restores bur sting. Importantly, this burst-promoting effect requires a relatively fast BK activation/deactivation, as predicted by computational models. We also show that adding a fast-activating BK conductance to spiking gonadotrophs converts the activity of these cells to bursting. Together, our results suggest that differences in BK channel expression may underlie the differences in electrical activity and basal hormone secretion levels among pituitary cell types and that the rapid rate of BK channel activation is key to its role in burst promotion.