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Novartis Found Symp. 2002;246:154-68; discussion 168-73, 221-7.

Calcium release events in excitation-contraction coupling in smooth muscle.

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  • 1Department of Pharmacology & Clinical Pharmacology, St George's Hospital Medical School, London, UK.


Although smooth muscle cells are not organized in sarcomeres, as are striated muscles, nevertheless Ca2+ for contraction is released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) at certain preferred sites. These sites commonly discharge packets of Ca2+ spontaneously and have been called frequent discharge sites (FDSs). Each spontaneous release of a Ca2+ packet usually leads to a burst of openings of Ca2+-activated K+ channels in the cell membrane which produces a spontaneous transient outward current (STOC) in smooth muscle cells under voltage clamp. When fluorescent Ca2+ indicators such as Fluo-3 became available, the spontaneous transient increases in [Ca2+]i produced by Ca2+ packets released from the SR were also detected in cardiac muscle as flashes of fluorescence or 'sparks'. Sparks in smooth muscle consist of smaller Ca2+ packets that can give rise to 'microsparks'. In some smooth muscles which have Ca2+-activated Cl- channels, STICs (spontaneous transient inward currents) are also found to be associated with sparks. FDSs have been found to be important initiating sites for a Ca2+ wave in response to an action potential or in response to receptor activation and possibly other stimuli, such as stretch. In both cases Ca2+-induced Ca2+ release seems to be crucially involved.

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