P/Q-type voltage-dependent calcium channels play key roles in transmitter release, integration of dendritic signals, generation of dendritic spikes, and gene expression. High intracellular calcium concentration transient produced by these channels is restricted to tens to hundreds of nanometers from the channels. Therefore, precise localization of these channels along the plasma membrane was long sought to decipher how each neuronal cell function is controlled. Here, we analyzed the distribution of Cav2.1 subunit of the P/Q-type channel using highly sensitive SDS-digested freeze-fracture replica labeling in the rat cerebellar Purkinje cells. The labeling efficiency was such that the number of immunogold particles in each parallel fiber active zone was comparable to that of functional channels calculated from previous reports. Two distinct patterns of Cav2.1 distribution, scattered and clustered, were found in Purkinje cells. The scattered Cav2.1 had a somatodendritic gradient with the density of immunogold particles increasing 2.5-fold from soma to distal dendrites. The other population with 74-fold higher density than the scattered particles was found within clusters of intramembrane particles on the P-face of soma and primary dendrites. Both populations of Cav2.1 were found as early as P3 and increased in the second postnatal week to a mature level. Using double immunogold labeling, we found that virtually all of the Cav2.1 clusters were colocalized with two types of calcium-activated potassium channels, BK and SK2, with the nearest neighbor distance of 40∼nm. Calcium nanodomain created by the opening of Cav2.1 channels likely activates the two channels that limit the extent of depolarization.
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