Changes in membrane cholesterol content have potent effects on cell signalling and contractility in rat myometrium and other smooth muscles. We have previously shown that depletion of cholesterol with methyl-β-cyclodextrin (MCD) disrupts caveolar microdomains. The aim of this work was to determine the mechanism underlying the increase in Ca2+ signalling and contractility occurring in the myometrium with MCD. Patch clamp data obtained on freshly isolated myocytes from the uterus of day 19-21 rats showed that outward K+ current was significantly reduced by MCD. Membrane capacitance was also reduced. Cholesterol-saturated MCD had no effect on the amplitude of outward current suggesting that the reduction in the outward current was due to cholesterol depletion induced by MCD rather than a direct inhibitory action of MCD on the K+ channels. Confocal visualization of the membrane bound indicator Calcium Green C18, revealed internalization of the surface membrane with MCD treatment. Large conductance, Ca2+-sensitive K+ channel proteins have been shown to localize to caveolae. When these channels were blocked by iberiotoxin outward current was significantly reduced in the uterine myocytes; MCD treatment reduced the density of outward current. Following reduction of outward current by MCD pretreatment, iberiotoxin was unable to produce any additional decrease in the current, suggesting a common target. MCD treatment also increased the amplitude and frequency of spontaneous rises in cytosolic Ca2+ level ([Ca2+]i transients) in isolated myocytes. In intact rat myometrium, MCD treatment increased Ca2+ signalling and contractility, consistent with previous findings, and this effect was also found to be reduced by BK channel inhibition. These data suggest that (1) disruption of cholesterol-rich microdomains and caveolae by MCD leads to a decrease in the BK channel current thus increasing cell excitability, and (2) the changes in membrane excitability produced by MCD underlie the changes found in Ca2+ signalling and uterine contractility.
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