Single rat lactotroph cells were studied after loading with the cytosolic free Ca2+ concentration ([Ca2+]i) indicator fura-2 either 1 or 3 days after cell dispersion. Under unstimulated conditions, two groups of lactotrophs were observed, the first (predominant at day 1) with large [Ca2+]i fluctuations (peaks up to 300 nM) probably due to spontaneous action potentials and the second (predominant at 3 days) with stable [Ca2+]i (values variable between 65 and 200 nM). The effect of dopamine on the resting [Ca2+]i was different in the two groups. Even at high dopamine concentrations, no change occurred in the second group; whereas in the first, disappearance of fluctuations and marked decrease of [Ca2+]i were observed. These effects of dopamine appear to be due to hyperpolarization that was demonstrated by the use of a specific fluorescent indicator, bis(oxonol). Two types of triggered [Ca2+]i transients were studied in detail: those due to redistribution of Ca2+ from the intracellular stores (induced by thyrotropin-releasing hormone) and those due to Ca2+ influx through voltage-gated Ca2+ channels (induced by high [K+]). Dopamine (1 microM) markedly inhibited both these transients by the action of D2 receptors (blocked by 1-sulpiride and domperidone). All effects of dopamine were prevented by treatment of the cells with pertussis toxin, indicating the involvement of one (or more) GTP-binding protein(s). Another consequence of D2 receptor activation is the inhibition of adenylate cyclase. Treatments (cholera toxin, forskolin), known to raise cAMP levels, were found to dissociate the effects of dopamine on [Ca2+]i inasmuch as they markedly relieved the inhibition of the redistributive transients by thyrotropin-releasing hormone but left hyperpolarization and inhibition of K+ transients unaffected. The spectrum of intracellular signals elicited by the activation of D2 receptors is therefore complex and includes at least two mechanisms that involve [Ca2+]i, one related and the other independent of the decrease of cAMP levels.
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