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Mol Syst Biol. 2009;5:247. doi: 10.1038/msb.2009.6. Epub 2009 Mar 17.

Temporal switching and cell-to-cell variability in Ca2+ release activity in mammalian cells.

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Department of Pharmacology, Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, Japan.


Genetically identical cells in a uniform external environment can exhibit different phenotypes, which are often masked by conventional measurements that average over cell populations. Although most studies on this topic have used microorganisms, differentiated mammalian cells have rarely been explored. Here, we report that only approximately 40% of clonal human embryonic kidney 293 cells respond with an intracellular Ca(2+) increase when ryanodine receptor Ca(2+) release channels in the endoplasmic reticulum are maximally activated by caffeine. On the other hand, the expression levels of ryanodine receptor showed a unimodal distribution. We showed that the difference in the caffeine sensitivity depends on a critical balance between Ca(2+) release and Ca(2+) uptake activities, which is amplified by the regenerative nature of the Ca(2+) release mechanism. Furthermore, individual cells switched between the caffeine-sensitive and caffeine-insensitive states with an average transition time of approximately 65 h, suggestive of temporal fluctuation in endogenous protein expression levels associated with caffeine response. These results suggest the significance of regenerative mechanisms that amplify protein expression noise and induce cell-to-cell phenotypic variation in mammalian cells.

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