• Open Access

Caveolar nanospaces in smooth muscle cells


  • Mihaela Gherghiceanu,

    1. “Victor Babeo” National Institute of Pathology, Bucharest, Romania
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  • L. M. Popescu

    Corresponding author
    1. “Victor Babeo” National Institute of Pathology, Bucharest, Romania
    2. Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, “Carol Davila” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Bucharest, Romania
    • Correspondence to: L.M. POPESCU, M.D., Ph.D. P.O. Box 35-29, Bucharest 35, Romania. E-mail: LMP@jcmm.org

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Caveolae, specialized membrane nanodomains, have a key role in signaling processes, including calcium handling in smooth muscle cells (SMC). We explored the three-dimensional (3D) architecture of peripheral cytoplasmic space at the nanoscale level and the close spatial relationships between caveolae, sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR), and mitochondria, as ultrastructural basis for an excitation-contraction coupling system and, eventually, for excitation - transcription coupling. About 150 electron micrographs of SMC showed that superficial SR and peripheral mitochondria are rigorously located along the caveolar domains of plasma membrane, alternating with plasmalemmal dense plaques. Electron micrographs made on serial ultrathin sections were digitized, then computer-assisted organellar profiles were traced on images, and automatic 3D reconstruction was obtained using the ‘Reconstruct’ software. The reconstruction was made for 1 μm3 in rat stomach (muscularis mucosae) and 10 μm3 in rat urinary bladder (detrusor smooth muscle). The close appositions (about 15 nm distance) of caveolae, peripheral SR, and mitochondria create coherent cytoplasmic nanoscale subdomains. Apparently, 80% of caveolae establish close contacts with SR and about 10% establish close contacts with mitochondria in both types of SMC. Thus, our results show that caveolae and peripheral SR build Ca2+release units in which mitochondria often could play a part. The caveolae-SR couplings occupy 4.19% of the cellular volume in stomach and 3.10% in rat urinary bladder, while caveolae-mitochondria couplings occupy 3.66% and 3.17%, respectively. We conclude that there are strategic caveolae-SR or caveolae-mitochondria contacts at the nanoscale level in the cortical cytoplasm of SMC, presumably responsible for a vectorial control of free Ca2+ cytoplasmic concentrations in definite nanospaces. This may account for slective activation of specific Ca2+ signaling pathways.