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Prostanoids and cannabinoids have ocular hypotensive and neuroprotective properties. The effect of the prostanoid AH13205 (EP2), the thromboxane-mimetic U46619, the cannabinoid (CB) agonists WIN55212-2 and CP 55,940, endothelin-1 (ET-1) and 8-bromo-cAMP on the membrane currents of trabecular meshwork (TM) cells were measured using the patch-clamp technique and compared to their effects on TM contractility. Previous studies show relaxation of TM to AH 13205 and other substances that elevate cAMP, while U46619 and endothelin-1 contract TM. This study shows that after contraction (100%) with carbachol (10(-6)m), the CB agonist CP 55,940 dose-dependently reduced contractility to 83+/-4% (n=9) (10(-6)m) and 61+/-10%, (n=7) (10(-5)m). In the presence of both the CB1 antagonist AM251 (10(-6)m) and CP 55,940 (10(-5)m), the contractile response to carbachol reached 84+/-3% (n=6) of the original level. In patch-clamp experiments, membrane permeable 8-bromo-cAMP (10(-4)m) had no effect on currents of TM cells. In contrast, AH 13205 and two cannabinoids reversibly enhanced outward current through high-conductance Ca(2+)-activated K(+) channels (BKCa, BK, maxi-K) to the following values (in % of the initial value at 100 mV): AH 13205 (10(-5)m): 200+/-28% (n=6), CP 55,940 (10(-6)m): 196+/-33% (n=7), CP 55,940 (10(-5)m): 484+/-113% (n=7), WIN55212-2 (10(-5)m): 205+/-41% (n=10). Iberiotoxin (10(-7)m) completely blocked these responses. The current response to CP 55,940 (10(-5)m) could be partially blocked by the CB1 antagonist AM251 (10(-6)m). Conversely, the contractile agents in this study either caused a transient reduction in outward current (ET-1(5x10(-8)m)) or had no effect (U46619 (10(-6)m)). We conclude that stimulation of EP2 and CB1 receptors in TM is coupled to the activation of BKCa channels via a non-diffusible second messenger cascade. This effect may contribute to the relaxant activity of EP2 and CB1 agonists in isolated TM strips, modulating ocular outflow.