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Calcium Channels

  1. Bruce P Bean1,
  2. Stefan I McDonough2

Published Online: 15 SEP 2010

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000028.pub2



How to Cite

Bean, B. P. and McDonough, S. I. 2010. Calcium Channels. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. 1

    Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

  2. 2

    Amgen, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2010


Calcium channels are plasma membrane proteins containing calcium-selective pores that are opened by depolarisation of the membrane voltage. They produce depolarisation-induced calcium entry in neurons, muscle and other excitable cells, as well as some nonexcitable cells. Functions mediated by calcium channels include contraction of muscle, release of neurotransmitters and hormones by neurons and neuroendocrine cells, and control of gene transcription. Calcium channels are multi-subunit proteins encoded by many separate genes, and the resulting proteins often govern distinct functional roles within a given cell type. They are targets for modulation by many intracellular signalling pathways including G proteins and phosphorylation. Calcium channels play pivotal roles in many human diseases, particularly of the cardiac and nervous systems, including pain, seizure, hypertension and migraine. Pharmacological blockers for some types of calcium channels are known, including clinically used drugs for hypertension and pain. In some cases such calcium channel blockers are highly selective for specific types of calcium channels, but there is great potential for developing more selective and more potent drugs targeting calcium channels.

Key Concepts:

  • Voltage-gated calcium channels are proteins that selectively conduct calcium ions from the outside to the inside of the cell in response to a change in transmembrane voltage from more to less negative.

  • At the cellular level, calcium channels are a major link between electrical signalling and intracellular biochemical signalling. Calcium channel function is modulated strongly by a variety of intracellular enzymes and signalling pathways.

  • Many genes encode calcium channels. Different subtypes often carry out distinct physiological functions, via distinct cellular locations and biophysical properties.

  • Calcium channels govern physiological functions including neurotransmitter and hormone release, muscle contraction and the regulation of gene expression.

  • Calcium channel dysfunction contributes to diseases including cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension, chronic pain, epilepsy and migraine. They are under investigation for their role in diseases including autism, schizophrenia and bipolar spectrum disorder.


  • ion channels;
  • voltage-dependent gating;
  • ionic selectivity;
  • action potential;
  • dihydropyridines;
  • migraine;
  • pain;
  • β-cell;
  • ziconotide;
  • pregabalin