In many types of eukaryotic cells, the activation of surface receptors leads to the production of inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate and calcium release from intracellular stores. Calcium release can occur in complex spatial patterns, including waves of release that traverse the cytoplasm. Fluorescence video microscopy was used to view calcium waves in single mouse neuroblastoma cells. The propagation of calcium waves was slowed by buffers that bind calcium quickly, such as BAPTA, but not by a buffer with slower on-rate, EGTA. This shows that a key feedback event in wave propagation is rapid diffusion of calcium occurring locally on a scale of < 1 micron. The length-speed product of wavefronts was used to determine that calcium acting in feedback diffuses at nearly the rate expected for free diffusion in aqueous solution. In cytoplasm, which contains immobile Ca2+ buffers, this rate of diffusion occurs only in the first 0.2 ms after release, within 0.4 micron of a Ca2+ release channel mouth. Calcium diffusion from an open channel to neighboring release sites is, therefore, a rate-determining regenerative step in calcium wave propagation. The theoretical limitations of the wave front analysis are discussed.
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