In many cell types, low concentrations of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) release only a portion of the intracellular IP3-sensitive Ca2+ store, a phenomenon known as "quantal" Ca2+ release. It has been suggested that this effect is a result of reduced activity of the IP3-dependent Ca2+ channel with decreasing calcium concentration within the IP3-sensitive store ([Ca2+]s). To test this hypothesis, the properties of IP3-dependent Ca2+ release in single saponin-permeabilized HSY cells were studied by monitoring [Ca2+]s using the Ca(2+)-sensitive fluorescent dye mag-fura-2. In permeabilized cells, blockade of the sarco/ER Ca(2+)-ATPase pump in stores partially depleted by IP3 induced further Ca2+ release via an IP3-dependent route, indicating that Ca2+ entry via the sarco/ER Ca(2+)-ATPase pump had been balanced by Ca2+ loss via the IP3-sensitive channel before pump inhibition. IP3-dependent Mn2+ entry, monitored via quenching of luminal mag-fura-2 fluorescence, was readily apparent in filled stores but undetectable in Ca(2+)-depleted stores, indicating markedly reduced IP3-sensitive channel activity in the latter. Also consistent with reduced responsiveness of Ca(2+)-depleted stores to IP3, the initial rate of refilling of these stores was unaffected by the presence of 0.3 microM IP3, a concentration that was clearly effective in eliciting Ca2+ release from filled stores. Analysis of the rate of Ca2+ release at various IP3 concentrations indicated a significant shift of the IP3 dose response toward higher [IP3] with decreasing [Ca2+]s. We conclude that IP3-dependent Ca2+ release in HSY cells is a steady-state process wherein Ca2+ efflux via the IP3 receptor Ca2+ channel is regulated by [Ca2+]s, apparently via changes in the sensitivity of the channel to IP3.

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