Membrane ion channels as physiological targets for local Ca2+ signalling


Professor Bolton Tel: +44 (0)208 725 5617; fax: +44 (0)208 725 3581; e-mail:


Ionized calcium plays a central role as a second messenger in a number of physiologically important processes determining smooth muscle function. To regulate a wide range of cellular activities the mechanisms of subcellular calcium signalling should be very diverse. Recent progress in development of visible light-excitable fluorescent dyes with high affinity for Ca2+ (such as oregon green 488 BAPTA indicators, fluo-3 and fura red) and confocal laser scanning microscopy provides an opportunity for direct visualization of subcellular Ca2+ signalling and reveals that many cell function are regulated by the microenvironment within small regions of the cytoplasm (‘local control’ concept). Here confocal imaging is used to measure and locate changes in [Ca2+]i on a subcellular level in response to receptor stimulation in visceral myocytes. We show that stimulation of muscarinic receptors in ileal myocytes with carbachol leading to activation of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptors (IP3Rs) accelerates the frequency of spontaneous calcium sparks (discharged via ryanodine receptors, RyRs) and gives rise to periodic propagating Ca2+ waves oscillating with a frequency similar to that of carbachol-activated cationic current oscillations. Furthermore, by combining the whole-cell patch clamp technique with simultaneous confocal imaging of [Ca2+]i in voltage-clamped vascular myocytes we demonstrate that calcium sparks may lead to the opening of either Ca2+-activated Cl channels or Ca2+-activated K+ channels, and the discharge of a spontaneous transient inward current (STIC) or a spontaneous transient outward current (STOC), respectively.