Sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca release was studied at 13-16 degrees C in cut fibers (sarcomere length, 3.4-3.9 microns) mounted in a double Vaseline-gap chamber. The amplitude and duration of the action-potential stimulated free [Ca] transient were reduced by equilibration with end-pool solutions that contained 20 mM EGTA with 1.76 mM Ca and 0.63 mM phenol red, a maneuver that appeared to markedly reduce the amount of Ca complexed by troponin. A theoretical analysis shows that, under these conditions, the increase in myoplasmic free [Ca] is expected to be restricted to within a few hundred nanometers of the SR Ca release sites and to have a time course that essentially matches that of release. Furthermore, almost all of the Ca that is released from the SR is expected to be rapidly bound by EGTA and exchanged for protons with a 1:2 stoichiometry. Consequently, the time course of SR Ca release can be estimated by scaling the delta pH signal measured with phenol red by -beta/2. The value of beta, the buffering power of myoplasm, was determined in fibers equilibrated with a combination of EGTA, phenol red, and fura-2; its mean value was 22 mM/pH unit. The Ca content of the SR (expressed as myoplasmic concentration) was estimated from the total amount of Ca released by either a train of action potentials or a depleting voltage step; its mean value was 2,685 microM in the action-potential experiments and 2,544 microM in the voltage-clamp experiments. An action potential released, on average, 0.14 of the SR Ca content with a peak rate of release of approximately 5%/ms. A second action potential, elicited 20 ms later, released only 0.6 times as much Ca (expressed as a fraction of the SR content), probably because Ca inactivation of Ca release was produced by the first action potential. During a depolarizing voltage step to 60 mV, the rate of Ca release rapidly increased to a peak value of approximately 3%/ms and then decreased to a quasi-steady level that was only 0.6 times as large; this decrease was also probably due to Ca inactivation of Ca release. SR Ca release was studied with small step depolarizations that open no more than one SR Ca channel in 7,000 and increase the value of spatially averaged myoplasmic free [Ca] by only 0.2 nM.

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