• CREB;
  • immunocytochemistry;
  • nimodipine;
  • rat SCG;
  • single cell RT-PCR;
  • ω-conotoxin GVIA


During direct membrane depolarization, Ca2+ influx primarily through L-type Ca2+ (L-) channels initiates activity-dependent gene transcription. This is surprising given that in most neurons a minority of the total Ca2+ current arises from L-channel activity. However, many studies have stimulated Ca2+ influx with unphysiological stimuli such as chronic membrane depolarization using high K+ medium. Few studies have tested whether other Ca2+ channels stimulate gene transcription in adult neurons as a consequence of direct electrical stimulation. Therefore, we evaluated the role of L- and N-type Ca2+ (N-) channel activity in regulating mRNA levels of c-fos, an activity-dependent transcription factor, in adult rat superior cervical ganglion (SCG) neurons as the majority of Ca2+ channels are N-type, while only a minority are L-type. Changes in c-fos mRNA levels were measured using semi-quantitative and single-cell RT-PCR. Phosphorylation of CREB (pCREB) and changes in c-Fos levels were visualized in dissociated cells by immunocytochemistry. Increases in pCREB, c-fos mRNA and c-Fos protein with either K+ or electrical depolarization required Ca2+ influx. These results support previous findings that elevated c-fos levels result from pCREB stimulating c-fos transcription. Elevation of pCREB, c-fos and c-Fos with K+ depolarization depended on L-channel activity. By contrast, antagonizing either channel at 10-Hz stimulation minimized these increases despite unequal numbers of the two channel types. Transition to exclusive L-channel involvement occurred with increasing frequency of stimulation (from 10 to 20 to 50 Hz). Our results demonstrate that N- and L-channel participation in regulating c-fos expression is encoded in the pattern of electrical stimulation.