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The rates of activation and unitary properties of Na± activated K+ (KNa) currents have been found to vary substantially in different types of neurones. One class of KNa channels is encoded by the Slack gene. We have now determined that alternative RNA splicing gives rise to at least five different transcripts for Slack, which produce Slack channels that differ in their predicted cytoplasmic amino-termini and in their kinetic properties. Two of these, termed Slack-A channels, contain an amino-terminus domain closely resembling that of another class of KNa channels encoded by the Slick gene. Neuronal expression of Slack-A channels and of the previously described Slack isoform, now called Slack-B, are driven by independent promoters. Slack-A mRnas were enriched in the brainstem and olfactory bulb and detected at significant levels in four different brain regions.When expressed in CHOcells, Slack-A channels activate rapidly upon depolarization and, in single channel recordings in Xenopus oocytes, are characterized by multiple subconductance states with only brief transient openings to the fully open state. In contrast, Slack-B channels activate slowly over hundreds of milliseconds, with openings to the fully open state that are ~6-fold longer than those for Slack-A channels. In numerical simulations, neurones in which outward currents are dominated by a Slack-A-like conductance adapt very rapidly to repeated or maintained stimulation over a wide range of stimulus strengths. In contrast, Slack-B currents promote rhythmic firing during maintained stimulation, and allow adaptation rate to vary with stimulus strength. Using an antibody that recognizes all amino-termini isoforms of Slack, Slack immunoreactivity is present at locations that have no Slack-B-specific staining, including olfactory bulb glomeruli and the dendrites of hippocampal neurones, suggesting that Slack channels with alternate amino-termini such as Slack-A channels are present at these locations. Our data suggest that alternative promoters of the Slack gene differentially modulate the properties of neurones.
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