Single pituitary cells often fire spontaneous action potentials (APs), which are believed to underlie spiking fluctuations in cytosolic calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i). To address how these basal [Ca2+]i fluctuations depend on changes in plasma membrane voltage (V), simultaneous measurements of V and [Ca2+]i were performed in rat pituitary gonadotrophs. The data show that each [Ca2+]i spike is produced by the Ca2+ entry during a single AP. Using these and previously obtained patch-clamp data, we develop a quantitative mathematical model of this plasma membrane oscillator and the accompanying spatiotemporal [Ca2+]i oscillations. The model demonstrates that AP-induced [Ca2+]i spiking is prominent only in a thin shell layer neighboring the cell surface. This localized [Ca2+]i spike transiently activates the Ca2(+)- dependent K+ current resulting in a sharp afterhyperpolarization following each voltage spike. In accord with experimental observations, the model shows that the frequency and amplitude of the voltage spikes are highly sensitive to current injection and to the blocking of the Ca(2+)-sensitive current. Computations also predict that leaving the membrane channels intact, the firing rate can be modified by changing the Ca2+ handling parameters: the Ca2+ diffusion rate, the Ca2+ buffering capacity, and the plasma membrane Ca2+ pump rate. Finally, the model suggests reasons that spontaneous APs were seen in some gonadotrophs but not in others. This model provides a basis for further exploring how plasma membrane electrical activity is involved in the control of cytosolic calcium level in unstimulated as well as agonist-stimulated gonadotrophs.
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