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Am J Physiol. 1996 Jan;270(1 Pt 1):C148-59.

Calcium sparks and [Ca2+]i waves in cardiac myocytes.

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Department of Physiology, University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Medicine 21201, USA.


Local elevations in intracellular calcium ("Ca2+ sparks") in heart muscle are elementary sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca(2+)-release events. Ca2+ sparks occur at a low rate in quiescent cells but can also be evoked by electrical stimulation of the cell to produce the cell-wide Ca2+ transient. In this study we investigate how Ca2+ sparks are related to propagating waves of elevated cytosolic Ca2+ induced by "Ca2+ overload." Single ventricular myocytes from rat were loaded with the Ca(2+)-sensitive indicator fluo 3 and imaged with a confocal microscope. After extracellular Ca2+ concentration was increased from 1 to 10 mM to produce Ca2+ overload, the frequency of spontaneous Ca2+ sparks, which occur at the t tubule/SR junction, increased approximately 4-fold, whereas the spark amplitude and spatial size increased 4.1-and 1.7-fold, respectively. In addition, a spectrum of larger subcellular events, including propagating Ca2+ waves, was observed. Ca2+ sparks were seen to occur at the majority (65%) of the sites of wave initiation. For slowly propagating Ca2+ waves, discrete Ca(2+)-release events, similar to Ca2+ sparks, were detected in the wave front. These Ca2+ sparks appeared to recruit other sparks along the wave front so that the wave progressed in a saltatory manner. We conclude that Ca2+ sparks are elementary events that can explain both the initiation and propagation of Ca2+ waves. In addition, we show that Ca2+ waves and electrically evoked Ca2+ transients have the same time course and interact with each other in a manner that is consistent with both phenomena having the same underlying mechanism(s). These results suggest that SR Ca2+ release during Ca2+ waves, like that during normal excitation-contraction coupling, results from the spatial and temporal summation of Ca2+ sparks.

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