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J Gen Physiol. 1999 Oct;114(4):575-88.

Imaging Ca(2+) entering the cytoplasm through a single opening of a plasma membrane cation channel.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, Massachusetts 01655, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Gen Physiol 1999 Dec;114(6):839.


Discrete localized fluorescence transients due to openings of a single plasma membrane Ca(2+) permeable cation channel were recorded using wide-field digital imaging microscopy with fluo-3 as the Ca(2+) indicator. These transients were obtained while simultaneously recording the unitary channel currents using the whole-cell current-recording configuration of the patch-clamp technique. This cation channel in smooth muscle cells is opened by caffeine (Guerrero, A., F.S. Fay, and J.J. Singer. 1994. J. Gen. Physiol. 104:375-394). The localized fluorescence transients appeared to occur at random locations on the cell membrane, with the duration of the rising phase matching the duration of the channel opening. Moreover, these transients were only observed in the presence of sufficient extracellular Ca(2+), suggesting that they are due to Ca(2+) influx from the bathing solution. The fluorescence transient is characterized by an initial fast rising phase when the channel opens, followed by a slower rising phase during prolonged openings. When the channel closes there is an immediate fast falling phase followed by a slower falling phase. Computer simulations of the underlying events were used to interpret the time course of the transients. The rapid phases are mainly due to the establishment or removal of Ca(2+) and Ca(2+)-bound fluo-3 gradients near the channel when the channel opens or closes, while the slow phases are due to the diffusion of Ca(2+) and Ca(2+)-bound fluo-3 into the cytoplasm. Transients due to short channel openings have a "Ca(2+) spark-like" appearance, suggesting that the rising and early falling components of sparks (due to openings of ryanodine receptors) reflect the fast phases of the fluorescence change. The results presented here suggest methods to determine the relationship between the fluorescence transient and the underlying Ca(2+) current, to study intracellular localized Ca(2+) handling as might occur from single Ca(2+) channel openings, and to localize Ca(2+) permeable ion channels on the plasma membrane.

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