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J Physiol. 2009 Nov 15;587(Pt 22):5377-91. doi: 10.1113/jphysiol.2009.176065. Epub 2009 Sep 14.

Loose coupling between calcium channels and sites of exocytosis in chromaffin cells.

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MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK.


Calcium microdomains generated by tight clusters of calcium channels regulate fusion of small vesicles at the synaptic terminal and have also been suggested to trigger exocytosis of large dense-core vesicles from neuroendocrine cells. To test this idea, we have compared sites of exocytosis and the spatial distribution of calcium channels in chromaffin cells. Fusion of individual vesicles was visualized using interference reflection microscopy and the submembranous calcium signal was assessed using total internal reflection fluorescence microscopy. Depolarization triggered a burst of exocytosis from up to seven sites in a membrane area of 11 microm(2), but these sites did not colocalize with calcium microdomains. Instead, calcium influx occurred in large patches (averaging 34 microm(2)) containing a mixture of P/Q- and N-type channels. About 20% of fusion events occurred outside calcium channel patches. Further, the delay between the onset of stimulation and a burst of exocytosis was prolonged for several seconds by increasing the concentration of the slow calcium chelator EGTA from 1.5 to 5 mM. These results demonstrate that while calcium channels and release sites tend to congregate in specialized regions of the surface membrane, these have dimensions of several micrometres. The dominant calcium signal regulating release in chromaffin cells is generated by the cooperative action of many channels operating over distances of many micrometres rather than discrete clusters of calcium channels generating localized microdomains.

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