A more complete understanding of calcium's role in cell division requires knowledge of the timing, magnitude, and duration of changes in cytoplasmic-free calcium, [Ca2+]i, associated with specific mitotic events. To define the temporal relationship of changes in [Ca2+]i to cellular and chromosomal movements, we have measured [Ca2+]i every 6-7 s in single-dividing Pt K2 cells using fura-2 and microspectrophotometry, coupling each calcium measurement with a bright-field observation. In the 12 min before discernable chromosome some separation, 90% of metaphase cells show at least one transient of increased [Ca2+]i, 72% show their last transient within 5 min, and a peak of activity is seen at 3 min before chromosome separation. The mean [Ca2+]i of the metaphase transients is 148 +/- 31 nM (61 transients in 35 cells) with an average duration of 21 +/- 14 s. The timing of these increases makes it unlikely that these transient increases in [Ca2+]i are acting directly to trigger the start of anaphase. However, it is possible that a transient rise in calcium during late metaphase is part of a more complex progression to anaphase. In addition to these transient changes, a gradual increase in [Ca2+]i was observed starting in late anaphase. Within the 2 min surrounding cytokinesis onset, 82% of cells show a transient increase in [Ca2+]i to 171 +/- 48 nM (53 transients in 32 cells). The close temporal correlation of these changes with cleavage is consistent with a more direct role for calcium in this event, possibly by activating the contractile system. To assess the specificity of these changes to the mitotic cycle, we examined calcium changes in interphase cells. Two-thirds of interphase cells show no transient increases in calcium with a mean [Ca2+]i of 100 +/- 18 nM (n = 12). However, one-third demonstrate dramatic and repeated transient increases in [Ca2+]i. The mean peak [Ca2+]i of these transients is 389 +/- 70 nM with an average duration of 77 s. The necessity of any of these transient changes in calcium for the completion of mitotic or interphase activities remains under investigation.

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