Ca2+ is the most ubiquitous second messenger found in all cells. Alterations in [Ca2+]i contribute to a wide variety of cellular responses including neurotransmitter release, muscle contraction, synaptogenesis and gene expression. Voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels, found in all excitable cells (Hille 1992), mediate the entry of Ca2+ into cells following depolarization. Ca2+ channels are composed of a large pore-forming subunit, called the α1 subunit, and several accessory subunits. Ten different α1 subunit genes have been identified and classified into three families, Cav1-3 (Dunlap et al. 1995, Catterall 2000). Each α1 gene produces a unique Ca 2+ channel. Although chromaffin cells express several different types of Ca2+ channels, this review will focus on the Cav2.1 and Cav2.2 channels, also known as P/Q- and N-type respectively (Nowycky et al. 1985, Llinas et al. 1989b, Wheeler et al. 1994). These channels exhibit physiological and pharmacological properties similar to their neuronal counterparts. N-, P/Q and to a lesser extent R-type Ca2+ channels are known to regulate neurotransmitter release (Hirning et al. 1988, Horne & Kemp 1991, Uchitel et al. 1992, Luebke et al. 1993, Takahashi & Momiyama 1993, Turner et al. 1993, Regehr & Mintz 1994, Wheeler et al. 1994, Wu & Saggau 1994, Waterman 1996, Wright & Angus 1996, Reid et al. 1997). N- and P/Q-type Ca2+ channels are abundant in nerve terminals where they colocalize with synaptic vesicles. Similarly, these channels play a role in neurotransmitter release in chromaffin cells (Garcia et al. 2006). N- and P/Q-type channels are subject to many forms of regulation (Ikeda & Dunlap 1999). This review pays particular attention to the regulation of N- and P/Q-type channels by heterotrimeric G-proteins, interaction with SNARE proteins, and channel inactivation in the context of stimulus-secretion coupling in adrenal chromaffin cells.
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