When macrophages and neutrophils are allowed to settle onto an appropriate surface, they attach and spread in a frustrated attempt to phagocytose the substrate. Spreading is associated with extensive rearrangements of the actin cytoskeleton which resemble those occurring during phagocytosis. We have previously shown that spreading in human neutrophils is preceded by an increase in cytosolic-free calcium concentration [( Ca2+]i) (Kruskal, B. A., S. Shak, and F. R. Maxfield. 1986. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 83:2919-2923). To assess the generality of this signal, we measured [Ca2+]i in single thioglycollate-elicited mouse peritoneal macrophages as they spread on an immune complex-coated surface, using fura-2 microspectrofluorometry. A [Ca2+]i increase always precedes spreading. This increase can involve several (up to 8) [Ca2+]i spikes, with an average peak value of 387 +/- 227 nM (mean +/- SD, n = 92 peaks in 24 cells), before spreading is detected. Neither spreading nor the magnitude of these spikes is significantly altered by removal of extracellular calcium. Many of the spreading macrophages exhibit periodic [Ca2+]i increases before and during spreading. The proportion which does so varies among experiments from 0 to 90%, but it is frequently greater than 40%. The largest number of cells (approximately 25%) exhibited only a single peak. In 13 cells that showed more than 10 peaks, the median period was 29 s (range 19-69 s). The average peak [Ca2+]i was 385 +/- 266 nM (mean +/- SD, n = 208 peaks in 14 cells). The calcium producing these increases is derived from intracellular pools. The oscillations occur with spreading on either opsonized or nonopsonized surfaces. The function of these oscillations is not clear, but the large number of cells which exhibit them suggest that they may be important to macrophage function.

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