Merits and Limitations of Studying Neuronal Depolarization-Dependent Processes Using Elevated External Potassium

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ASN Neuro, Volume 12, Issue , January-December 2020.
Elevated extracellular potassium chloride is widely used to achieve membrane depolarization of cultured neurons. This technique has illuminated mechanisms of calcium influx through L-type voltage sensitive calcium channels, activity-regulated signaling, downstream transcriptional events, and many other intracellular responses to depolarization. However, there is enormous variability in these treatments, including durations from seconds to days and concentrations from 3mM to 150 mM KCl. Differential effects of these variable protocols on neuronal activity and transcriptional programs are underexplored. Furthermore, potassium chloride treatments in vitro are criticized for being poor representatives of in vivo phenomena and are questioned for their effects on cell viability. In this review, we discuss the intracellular consequences of elevated extracellular potassium chloride treatment in vitro, the variability of such treatments in the literature, the strengths and limitations of this tool, and relevance of these studies to brain functions and dysfunctions.

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