Identification and regulation of whole-cell chloride currents in airway epithelium.

We used the whole-cell patch-clamp technique to study membrane currents in human airway epithelial cells. The conductive properties, as described by the instantaneous current-voltage relationship, rectified in the outward direction when bathed in symmetrical CsCl solutions. In the presence of Cl concentration gradients, currents reversed near ECl and were not altered significantly by cations. Agents that inhibit the apical membrane Cl conductance inhibited Cl currents. These conductive properties are similar to the conductive properties of the apical membrane Cl channel studied with the single-channel patch-clamp technique. The results suggest that the outwardly rectifying Cl channel is the predominant Cl-conductive pathway in the cell membrane. The steady-state and non-steady-state kinetics indicate that current flows through ion channels that are open at hyperpolarizing voltages and close with depolarization. These Cl currents were regulated by the cAMP-dependent protein kinase: when the catalytic subunit of cAMP-dependent protein kinase was included in the pipette solution, Cl channel current more than doubled. We also found that reducing extracellular osmolarity by 30% increased Cl current, suggesting that cell-swelling stimulated Cl current. Studies of transepithelial Cl transport in cell monolayers suggest that a reduction in solution osmolarity activates the apical Cl channel: reducing extracellular osmolarity stimulated a short-circuit current that was inhibited by Cl-free solution, by mucosal addition of a Cl channel antagonist, and by submucosal addition of a loop diuretic. These results suggest that apical membrane Cl channels may be regulated by cell volume and by the cAMP-dependent protein kinase.