1. Influx of calcium via voltage-dependent calcium channels during the action potential leads to increases in cytosolic calcium that can initiate a number of physiological processes. One of these is the activation of potassium currents on the plasmalemma. These calcium-activated potassium currents contribute to action potential repolarization and are largely responsible for the phenomenon of spike frequency adaptation. This refers to the progressive slowing of the frequency of discharge of action potentials during sustained injection of depolarizing current. In some cell types, this adaptation is so marked that despite the presence of depolarizing current, only a single spike (or a few spikes) is initiated. Following cessation of current injection, slow deactivation of calcium-activated potassium currents is also responsible for the prolonged hyperpolarization that often follows.
2. A number of macroscopic calcium-activated potassium currents that can be separated on the basis of kinetic and pharmacological criteria have been described in mammalian neurons. At the single channel level, several types of calcium-activated potassium channels also have been characterized. While for some macroscopic currents the underlying single channels have been unambiguously defined, for other currents the identity of the underlying channels is not clear.
3. In the present review we describe the properties of the known types of calcium-activated potassium currents in mammalian neurons and indicate the relationship between macroscopic currents and particular single channels.