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Biophys J. 1999 Sep;77(3):1528-39.

Shape, size, and distribution of Ca(2+) release units and couplons in skeletal and cardiac muscles.

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Department of Cell and Developmental Biology, School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104, USA.


Excitation contraction (e-c) coupling in skeletal and cardiac muscles involves an interaction between specialized junctional domains of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) and of exterior membranes (either surface membrane or transverse (T) tubules). This interaction occurs at special structures named calcium release units (CRUs). CRUs contain two proteins essential to e-c coupling: dihydropyridine receptors (DHPRs), L-type Ca(2+) channels of exterior membranes; and ryanodine receptors (RyRs), the Ca(2+) release channels of the SR. Special CRUs in cardiac muscle are constituted by SR domains bearing RyRs that are not associated with exterior membranes (the corbular and extended junctional SR or EjSR). Functional groupings of RyRs and DHPRs within calcium release units have been named couplons, and the term is also loosely applied to the EjSR of cardiac muscle. Knowledge of the structure, geometry, and disposition of couplons is essential to understand the mechanism of Ca(2+) release during muscle activation. This paper presents a compilation of quantitative data on couplons in a variety of skeletal and cardiac muscles, which is useful in modeling calcium release events, both macroscopic and microscopic ("sparks").

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