Whole‐Cell Patch‐Clamp Electrophysiology of Voltage‐Sensitive Channels

Timothy J. Shafer1

1 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina
Publication Name:  Current Protocols in Toxicology
Unit Number:  Unit 11.12
DOI:  10.1002/0471140856.tx1112s17
Online Posting Date:  November, 2003
GO TO THE FULL TEXT: PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library


Ion channels are critical modulators of electrical excitability in neurons and are targets of a wide variety of neurotoxicants, including metals and insecticides. The only way to directly examine effects of toxicants on ion channel function in an individual cell on a physiologically relevant time scale is to utilize patch‐clamp electrophysiological techniques. This unit presents the basics of utilizing whole‐cell patch‐clamp techniques to study effects of toxicants on voltage‐sensitive Ca2+ channels in neurons grown in culture.

Keywords: Patch clamp; electrophysiology; ion channels; neurotoxicants; pesticides; metals

PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library

Table of Contents

  • Strategic Planning
  • Basic Protocol 1: Examination of Voltage‐Sensitive Ca2+ Currents in Neurons
  • Support Protocol 1: Tissue Culture for PC12 Cells
  • Reagents and Solutions
  • Commentary
  • Literature Cited
  • Figures
PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library


Basic Protocol 1: Examination of Voltage‐Sensitive Ca2+ Currents in Neurons

  • Extracellular bath solution (see recipe)
  • Cells plated on glass coverslips (see protocol 2)
  • Intracellular (patch pipet) solution (see recipe)
  • Tetrodotoxin stock solution (see recipe), optional
  • QX‐314 solution (see recipe), optional
  • Glass blanks for pipets
  • Multistage pipet puller
  • Microforge/heated wire polisher
  • Chamber to hold cells
  • Inverted microscope with phase‐contrast, DIC, or Hoffman modulation optics
  • Faraday cage (can be constructed inexpensively)
  • Hydrolic, motorized, or piezoelectric micromanipulators
  • Computer with monitor
  • Patch‐clamp amplifier
  • Analog to digital (A/D) conversion board
  • Software
  • Vibration isolation table
  • Drug delivery device (optional, but recommended)
  • Oscilloscope

Support Protocol 1: Tissue Culture for PC12 Cells

  • PC12 cells
  • Dulbecco's modified Eagle medium (DMEM), supplemented with 44 mM NaHCO 3, 2 mM HEPES, 7.5% (v/v) fetal bovine serum (FBS), and 7.5% (v/v) horse serum
  • 50 µg/ml poly‐L‐lysine
  • 50 ng/ml human recombinant nerve growth factor (NGF) or 100 ng/ml mouse 7s NGF
  • 25‐cm2 polystyrene culture flasks
  • 25‐mm glass coverslips, sterile
  • 6‐ or 12‐well polystyrene multiwell plates
  • 15‐ml conical centrifuge tubes
NOTE: All solutions and equipment coming into contact with cells must be sterile, and proper sterile technique should be used accordingly.NOTE: All culture incubations should be performed in a humidified 37°C, 5% CO 2 incubator unless otherwise specified.
PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library



Literature Cited

   Atchison, W.D., Adgate, L., and Beaman, C.M. 1988. Effects of antibiotics on uptake of calcium into isolated nerve terminals. J. Pharmacol. Exp. Ther. 245:394‐401.
   Audesirk, G. 1993. Electrophysiology of lead intoxication: Effects on voltage‐sensitive ion channels. Neurotoxicol. 14:137‐147.
   Catterall, W.A. 1998. Structure and function of neuronal Ca2+ channels and their role in neurotransmitter release. Cell Calcium 24:307‐323.
   Chow, R.H. 1991. Cadmium block of squid calcium currents. Macroscopic data and a kinetic model. J. Gen. Physiol. 98:751‐770.
   Colston, J.T., Valdes, J.J., and Chambers, J.P. 1998. Ca2+ channel alpha 1‐subunit transcripts are differentially expressed in rat pheochromocytoma (PC12) cells following nerve growth factor treatment. Int. J. Dev. Neurosci. 16:379‐389.
   Ffrench‐Constant, R.H., Anthony, N., Aronstein, K., Rocheleau, T., and Stilwell, G. 2000. Cyclodiene insecticide resistance: From molecular to population genetics. Annu. Rev. Entomol. 45:449‐466.
   Hamill, O.P., Marty, A., Neher, E., Sakmann, B., and Sigworth, F.J. 1981. Improved patch‐clamp techniques for high‐resolution current recording from cells and cell‐free membrane patches. Pflügers Arch. 391:85‐100.
   Hille, B. 2001. Ion channels of excitable membranes. 3rd Edition. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA.
   Marszalec, W. and Narahashi, T. 1993. Use‐dependent pentobarbital block of kainate and quisqualate currents. Brain Res. 608:7‐15.
   Narahashi, T., Ginsburg, K.S., Nagata, K., Song, J.H., and Tatebayashi, H. 1998. Ion channels as targets for insecticides. Neurotoxicol. 19:581‐590.
   Shafer, T.J. 1999. The role of ion channels in neurotoxicity. In Neurotoxicology. (H.A. Tilson and G.J. Harry, eds.) pp. 99‐137. Taylor & Francis, Philadelphia, PA.
   Shafer, T.J. and Atchison, W.D. 1991. Transmitter, ion channel and receptor properties of pheochromocytoma (PC12) cells: A model for neurotoxicological studies. Neurotoxicol. 12:473‐492.
   Sirois, J.E. and Atchison, W.D. 1996. Effects of mercurials on ligand‐ and voltage‐gated ion channels: A review. Neurotoxicol. 17:63‐84.
Key References
   Catterall, 1998. See above.
  This review provides an excellent overview of the different types of voltage‐sensitive calcium channels and their roles in neurotransmitter release.
   Ffrench‐Constant et al., 2000. See above.
  This paper provides a review of work completed by this and other groups demonstrating that insecticide resistance to cyclodienes is the result of specific mutations in the structure of GABAA receptors. It is an excellent example of how the coupling of molecular biology techniques with electrophysiology is increasing the understanding of mechanisms of the effects of neurotoxicants.
   Hamill et al., 1981. See above.
  This is the seminal paper describing the use of patch‐clamp techniques. Sakmann and Neher won the 1991 Nobel Prize for their related work utilizing these techniques to describe the function of ion channels at the level of an individual channel.
   Hille, 2001. See above.
  Also known as “The gospel according to St. Bertil”—no disrespect intended. This book by Bertil Hille provides in‐depth coverage of the biophysics of ion channels from the basics such as equivalent electrical circuits in cells, Ohm's law, and the Nernst equation to more advanced topics such as the relationship between molecular structure and function, theory of gating, and mechanisms of block. It is one of the most important books for an electrophysiologist to own.
Internet Resources
  Axon Instruments is a commercial vendor of amplifiers and other cellular electrophysiology equipment. However, the mention of this Web site is not an endorsement of their equipment. Rather, it is listed because they do make available, free of charge, a publication called The Axon Guide. This publication contains additional practical and theoretical information about path clamp electrophysiology.
PDF or HTML at Wiley Online Library