Posts Tagged ‘Calcium in biology’

Medical Headline Misinformation Strikes Again: Claims About Vitamin D

Reporter: Stephen J. Williams, Ph.D.

A recent posting by a group called the Vitamin D Council (and put on this site) had referred to, and misquoted, the Mayo Clinic site on the role of vitamin D on various diseases. At first I was curious if this was actually reported on the Mayo site on claims of prevention of various cancers (as results from retrospective studies had been conflicting) and originally had made some strong comments. From comments made from this post I do agree that there is strong evidence about vitamin D supplementation for the prevention of rickets but as Mayo reviewed claims about vitamin D supplementation and prevention of certain diseases such as cancers and heart disease may not be as strong as some suggest.  My main concern was : is the clinical evidence strong enough for the role of vitamin D supplementation in a wide array of diseases and did Mayo make the claims as suggested in some media reports?  Actually Mayo does a very thorough job of determining the clinical evidence and the focus of vitamins and cancer risk will be a point of further discussion.

After consulting the Mayo clinic website it appears that the Vitamin D Council site had indeed misquoted and misrepresented the medical information contained within the Mayo Clinic website.

Medical Misinformation Is Probably The Most Hazardous and Biggest Risk Impacting a Healthy Lifestyle

The site had made numerous claims on role of vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) in numerous diseases; making it appear there were definitive links between low vitamin D3 and risk of hypertension, cancer, depression and diabetes.

A little background on Vitamin D

From Wikipedia

Vitamin D refers to a group of fat-soluble secosteroids responsible for enhancing intestinal absorption of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphate and zinc. In humans, the most important compounds in this group are vitamin D3 (also known as cholecalciferol) and vitamin D2 (ergocalciferol).[1] Cholecalciferol and ergocalciferol can be ingested from the diet and from supplements.[1][2][3] Very few foods contain vitamin D; synthesis of vitamin D (specifically cholecalciferol) in the skin is the major natural sources of the vitamin. Dermal synthesis of vitamin D from cholesterol is dependent on sun exposure (specifically UVB radiation).Vitamin D has a significant role in calcium homeostasis and metabolism. Its discovery was due to effort to find the dietary substance lacking in rickets (the childhood form of osteomalacia).[4]

also from Widipedia on Vitamin D toxicity

Vitamin D toxicity

Vitamin D toxicity is rare.[20] It is caused by supplementing with high doses of vitamin D rather than sunlight. The threshold for vitamin D toxicity has not been established; however, the tolerable upper intake level (UL), according to some research, is 4,000 IU/day for ages 9–71.[7] Whereas another research concludes that in healthy adults, sustained intake of more than 1250 μg/day (50,000 IU) can produce overt toxicity after several months and can increase serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D levels to 150 ng/ml and greater;[20][56] those with certain medical conditions, such as primary hyperparathyroidism,[57] are far more sensitive to vitamin D and develop hypercalcemia in response to any increase in vitamin D nutrition, while maternal hypercalcemia during pregnancy may increase fetal sensitivity to effects of vitamin D and lead to a syndrome of mental retardation and facial deformities.[57][58]

After being commissioned by the Canadian and American governments, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) as of 30 November 2010, has increased the tolerable upper limit (UL) to 2,500 IU per day for ages 1–3 years, 3,000 IU per day for ages 4–8 years and 4,000 IU per day for ages 9–71+ years (including pregnant or lactating women).[7]

Published cases of toxicity involving hypercalcemia in which the vitamin D dose and the 25-hydroxy-vitamin D levels are known all involve an intake of ≥40,000 IU (1,000 μg) per day.[57] Recommending supplementation, when those supposedly in need of it are labeled healthy, has proved contentious, and doubt exists concerning long-term effects of attaining and maintaining high serum 25(OH)D by supplementation.[61]

From the Mayo Clinic Website on Vitamin D

The Mayo Clinic has done a wonderful job curating the uses and proposed uses of vitamin D for various diseases and rates the evidence using a grading system A-F (as shown below):

Key to grades

A STRONG scientific evidence FOR THIS USE

B GOOD scientific evidence FOR THIS USE

C UNCLEAR scientific evidence for this use

D Fair scientific evidence AGAINST THIS USE (it may not work)

F Strong scientific evidence AGAINST THIS USE (it likely does not work)

Mayo has information for other natural products as well. As described below (and on the Mayo site here) most of the supposed evidence fails their criteria for a strong clinical link between diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, cancer and vitamin D (either parental or D3) levels.

The important take-home from the Mayo site is that there is strong evidence for the use of vitamin D in diseases related to the known mechanism of vitamin D such as low serum phosphate either due to kidney disease (Fanconi syndrome) or familial hypophosphatemia or in diseases surrounding bone metabolism like osteomalacia, rickets, dental cavities and even as a treatment for psoriasis or underactive parathyroid.

However most indications like hypertension, stroke, cancer prevention or treatment (other than supportive therapy for low vitamin D levels) get a poor grade (C or D) for clinical correlation from Mayo Clinic.

A Post in the Near Future will be a Curation of Validated Clinical Studies on Effects of Vitamins on Cancer Risk.

Below is taken from the Mayo Site:


These uses have been tested in humans or animals.  Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven.  Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.

Grading rationale

Evidence grade Condition to which grade level applies

Deficiency (phosphate)

Familial hypophosphatemia is a rare, inherited condition in which there are low blood levels of phosphate and problems with vitamin D metabolism. It is a form of rickets. Taking calcitriol or dihydrotachysterol by mouth along with phosphate supplements is effective for treating bone disorders in people with this disease. Those with this disorder should be monitored by a medical professional.


Kidney disease (causing low phosphate levels)

Fanconi syndrome is a kidney disease in which nutrients, including phosphate, are lost in the urine instead of being reabsorbed by the body. Taking ergocalciferol by mouth is effective for treating low phosphate levels caused by Fanconi syndrome.


Osteomalacia (bone softening in adults)

Adults who have severe vitamin D deficiency may experience bone pain and softness, as well as muscle weakness. Osteomalacia may be found among the following people: those who are elderly and have diets low in vitamin D; those with problems absorbing vitamin D; those without enough sun exposure; those who undergo stomach or intestine surgery; those with bone disease caused by aluminum; those with chronic liver disease; or those with bone disease associated with kidney problems. Treatment for osteomalacia depends on the cause of the disease and often includes pain control and surgery, as well as vitamin D and phosphate-binding agents.


Psoriasis (disorder causing skin redness and irritation)

Many different approaches are used to treat psoriasis, including light therapy, stress reduction, moisturizers, or salicylic acid. For more severe cases, calcipotriene (Dovonex®), a man-made substance similar to vitamin D3, may help control skin cell growth. This agent is a first-line treatment for mild-to-moderate psoriasis. Calcipotriene is also available with betamethasone and may be safe for up to one year. Vitamin D3 (tacalcitol) ointment or high doses of becocalcidiol applied to the skin are also thought to be safe and well-tolerated.


Rickets (bone weakening in children)

Rickets may develop in children who have vitamin D deficiency caused by a diet low in vitamin D, a lack of sunlight, or both. Babies fed only breast milk (without supplemental vitamin D) may also develop rickets. Ergocalciferol or cholecalciferol is effective for treating rickets caused by vitamin D deficiency. Calcitriol should be used in those with kidney failure. Treatment should be under medical supervision.


Thyroid conditions (causing low calcium levels)

Low levels of parathyroid hormone may occur after surgery to remove the parathyroid glands. Taking high doses of dihydrotachysterol, calcitriol, or ergocalciferol by mouth, with or without calcium, may help increase calcium levels in people with this type of thyroid problem. Increasing calcium intake, with or without vitamin D, may reduce the risk of underactive parathyroid glands.


Thyroid conditions (due to low vitamin D levels)

Some people may have overactive parathyroid glands due to low levels of vitamin D, and vitamin D is the first treatment for this disorder. For people who have overactive parathyroid glands due to other causes, surgery to remove the glands is often recommended. Studies suggest that vitamin D may help reduce the risk of further thyroid problems after undergoing partial or total removal of the parathyroid glands.


Vitamin D deficiency

Vitamin D deficiency is associated with many conditions, including bone loss, kidney disease, lung disorders, diabetes, stomach and intestine problems, and heart disease. Vitamin D supplementation has been found to help prevent or treat vitamin D deficiency.


Dental cavities

Much evidence has shown that vitamin D helps prevent cavities; however, more high-quality research is needed to further support this finding.


Renal osteodystrophy (bone problems due to chronic kidney failure)

Renal osteodystrophy refers to the bone problems that occur in people with chronic kidney failure. Calcifediol or ergocalciferol taken by mouth may help prevent this condition in people with chronic kidney failure who are undergoing treatment.


Autoimmune diseases

Vitamin D may reduce inflammation and help prevent autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn’s disease. However, further high-quality research is needed to confirm these results.


Bone density (children)

Vitamin D improves bone density in children who are vitamin D deficient. However, results are unclear and more research is needed.


Bone diseases (kidney disease or kidney transplant)

Vitamin D has been studied for people with chronic kidney disease. The use of substances similar to vitamin D has been found to increase bone density in people with kidney disease. The effect of vitamin D itself is unclear. Further research is needed before conclusions can be made.


Cancer prevention (breast, colorectal, prostate, other)

Many studies have looked at the effects of vitamin D on cancer. Positive results have been reported with the use of vitamin D alone or with calcium. Vitamin D intake with or without calcium has been studied for colorectal, cervical, breast, and prostate cancer. A reduced risk of colorectal cancer has been shown with vitamin D supplementation. However, there is a lack of consistent or strong evidence. Further study is needed.


Fibromyalgia (long-term, body-wide pain)

Vitamin D has been studied for the treatment of fibromyalgia, but evidence is lacking in support of its effectiveness. Further study is needed.


Fractures (prevention)

Conflicting results have been found on the use of vitamin D for fracture prevention. The combination of alfacalcidol and alendronate has been found to reduce the risk of falls and fractures. However, further high-quality research is needed before firm conclusions can be made.


Hepatic osteodystrophy (bone disease in people with liver disease)

Metabolic bone disease is common among people with chronic liver disease, and osteoporosis accounts for the majority of cases. Varying degrees of poor calcium absorption may occur in people with chronic liver disease due to malnutrition and vitamin D deficiency. Vitamin D taken by mouth or injected may play a role in the management of this condition.


High blood pressure

Low levels of vitamin D may be linked to high blood pressure. Blood pressure is often higher during the winter season, at a further distance from the equator, and in people with dark skin pigmentation. However, the evidence is unclear. More research is needed in this area. People who have high blood pressure should be managed by a medical professional.


Immune function

Early research suggests that vitamin D and similar compounds, such as alfacalcidol, may impact immune function. Vitamin D added to standard therapy may benefit people with infectious disease. More studies are needed to confirm these results.


Seasonal affective disorder (SAD)

SAD is a form of depression that occurs during the winter months, possibly due to reduced exposure to sunlight. In one study, vitamin D was found to be better than light therapy in the treatment of SAD. Further studies are necessary to confirm these findings.



Higher levels of vitamin D may decrease the risk of stroke. However, further study is needed to confirm the use of vitamin D for this condition.


Type 1 diabetes

Some studies suggest that vitamin D may help prevent the development of type 1 diabetes. However, there is a lack of strong evidence to support this finding.


Type 2 diabetes

Vitamin D has mixed effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity. It is often studied in combination with calcium. Further research is needed to confirm these results.


Cancer treatment (prostate)

Evidence suggests a lack of effect of vitamin D as a part of cancer treatment for prostate cancer. Further study is needed using other formulations of vitamin D and other types of cancer.


Heart disease

Vitamin D is recognized as being important for heart health. Overall, research is not consistent, and some studies have found negative effects of vitamin D on heart health. More high-quality research is needed to make a firm conclusion.


High cholesterol

Many studies have looked at the effects of vitamin D alone or in combination with other agents for high cholesterol, but results are inconsistent. Some negative effects have been reported. More research is needed on the use of vitamin D alone or in combination with calcium.

Other related articles on Vitamins and Disease were published in this Open Access Online Scientific Journal, include the following:

Multivitamins – Don’t help Extend Life or ward off Heart Disease and Improve state of Memory Loss

Diet and Diabetes

What do you know about Plants and Neutraceuticals?

Malnutrition in India, high newborn death rate and stunting of children age under five years

Omega-3 fatty acids, depleting the source, and protein insufficiency in renal disease

American Diet is LOW in four important Nutrients that have a direct bearing on Aging and the Brain

Parathyroids and Bone Metabolism


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Disruption of Calcium Homeostasis: Cardiomyocytes and Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells: The Cardiac and Cardiovascular Calcium Signaling Mechanism


Author, Introduction: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Author, Summary: Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC 


Article Curator: Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

This article is the Part VIII in a series of articles on Activation and Dysfunction of the Calcium Release Mechanisms in Cardiomyocytes and Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells. Calcium has a storage and release cycle that flags activation of important cellular activities that include in particular the cycle activation of muscle contraction both to circulate blood and control its pressure and distribution. Homeostasis – the maintenance of status – requires controlled release of calcium from storage and return of calcium to storage. Such controls are critical both within cells, and for the entire biologic system. Thus the role of kidneys in maintaining the correct total body load of available calcium is just as vital as the subcellular systems of calcium handling in heart muscle and in the muscles that line arteries to control blood flow. The practical side to this knowledge includes not only identifying abnormalities at the cellular as well as system levels, but also identifying better opportunities to characterize disease and to intervene.

The Series consists of the following articles:

Part I: Identification of Biomarkers that are Related to the Actin Cytoskeleton

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Part II: Role of Calcium, the Actin Skeleton, and Lipid Structures in Signaling and Cell Motility

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Stephen Williams, PhD and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part III: Renal Distal Tubular Ca2+ Exchange Mechanism in Health and Disease

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Stephen J. Williams, PhD
 and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part IV: The Centrality of Ca(2+) Signaling and Cytoskeleton Involving Calmodulin Kinases and Ryanodine Receptors in Cardiac Failure, Arterial Smooth Muscle, Post-ischemic Arrhythmia, Similarities and Differences, and Pharmaceutical Targets

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part V: Ca2+-Stimulated Exocytosis:  The Role of Calmodulin and Protein Kinase C in Ca2+ Regulation of Hormone and Neurotransmitter

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP
Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part VI: Calcium Cycling (ATPase Pump) in Cardiac Gene Therapy: Inhalable Gene Therapy for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension and Percutaneous Intra-coronary Artery Infusion for Heart Failure: Contributions by Roger J. Hajjar, MD

Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part VII: Cardiac Contractility & Myocardium Performance: Ventricular Arrhythmias and Non-ischemic Heart Failure – Therapeutic Implications for Cardiomyocyte Ryanopathy (Calcium Release-related Contractile Dysfunction) and Catecholamine Responses

Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC, Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part VIII: Disruption of Calcium Homeostasis: Cardiomyocytes and Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells: The Cardiac and Cardiovascular Calcium Signaling Mechanism

Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC, Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part IXCalcium-Channel Blockers, Calcium Release-related Contractile Dysfunction (Ryanopathy) and Calcium as Neurotransmitter Sensor

Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC, Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part X: Synaptotagmin functions as a Calcium Sensor: How Calcium Ions Regulate the fusion of vesicles with cell membranes during Neurotransmission

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part XI: Sensors and Signaling in Oxidative Stress

Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

Part XII: Atherosclerosis Independence: Genetic Polymorphisms of Ion Channels Role in the Pathogenesis of Coronary Microvascular Dysfunction and Myocardial Ischemia (Coronary Artery Disease (CAD))

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN


This article has three Sections:

Section One:

Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells: The Cardiovascular Calcium Signaling Mechanism

Section Two:

Cardiomyocytes Cells: The Cardiac Calcium Signaling Mechanism

Section Three:

The Calcium Sensor: How Calcium Ions Regulate the fusion of vesicles with cell membranes during Neurotransmission


by Larry H Bernstein, MD, FACC   


This discussion in two Sections brings to a conclusion the two main aspects of calcium signaling and transient current induction in the cardiovascular system – involving vascular smooth muscle and cardiomyocyte.  In this first Section, it extends the view of smooth muscle beyond the vascular smooth muscle to contraction events in gastrointestinal tract, urinary bladder, and uterus, but by inference, to ductal structures (gallbladder, parotid gland, etc.).  This discussion also reinforces the ECONOMY of the evolutionary development of these functional MOTIFS, as a common thread is used again, and again, in specific contexts.  The main elements of this mechanistic framework are:

  • the endoplasmic (sarcoplasmic) reticulum as a strorage depot for calcium needed in E-C coupling
  • the release of Ca(2+) into the cytoplasm
  • the generation of a voltage and current with contraction of the muscle cell unit
  • the coordination of smooth muscle cell contractions (in waves)
    • this appears to be related to the Rho/Rho kinase pathway
  • there is also a membrane depolarization inherent in the activation mechanism
  • whether there is an ordered relationship between the calcium release and the membrane polarization, and why this would be so, in not clear
  • three different models of calcium release are shown from the MJ Berridge classification article below in Figure 1.
  • Model C is of special interest because of the focus on cytosolic (Ca+) ion transfers involving the interstitial cells of Cajal (Ramin e’ Cajal) through gap junctions

Santiago Ramón y Cajal  (Spanish: [sanˈtjaɣo raˈmon i kaˈxal]; 1 May 1852 – 18 October 1934) was a Spanish pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist. He was awarded  the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1906 together with Italian Camillo Golgi “in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system”.  Relevant to this discussion, he discovered a new type of cell, to be named after him: the interstitial cell of Cajal (ICC). This cell is found interleaved among neurons embedded within the smooth muscles lining the gut, serving as the generator and pacemaker of the slow waves of contraction that move material along the gastrointestine, vitally mediating neurotransmission from motor nerves to smooth muscle cells . Cajal also described in 1891 slender horizontal bipolar cells in the developing marginal zone of lagomorphs.(See the Cajal’s original drawing of the cells) , considered by Retzius as homologues to the cells he found in humans and in other mammals (Retzius, 1893, 1894).  The term Cajal–Retzius cell is applied to reelin-producing neurons of the human embryonic marginal zone.  


Section One

Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells: The Cardiovascular Calcium Signaling Mechanism

Smooth Muscle Cell Calcium Activation Mechanisms

Michael J. Berridge

J Physiol 586.21 (2008) pp 5047–5061

Classification of Smooth Muscle Ca2+ Activation Mechanisms

Excitation–contraction coupling in SMCs occurs through two main mechanisms. Many SMCs are activated by Ca2+ signalling cascades (Haddock & Hill, 2005; Wray et al.  2005).  In addition, there is a Rho/Rho kinase signaling pathway that acts by altering the Ca2+ sensitivity of the contractile system (Somlyo & Somlyo, 2003). Since the latter appears to have more of a modulatory function,most attention will focus on how Ca2+ signalling is activated.  Since membrane depolarization is a key element for the activation of many SMCs,much attention will focus on the mechanisms responsible for depolarizing the membrane.  However, there are other SMCs where activation depends on the periodic release of Ca2+ from internal stores. These different Ca2+ activation mechanisms fall into the following three main groups (Fig. 1).


Fig 1 Ca2+

Figure 1. The three main mechanisms responsible for generating the Ca2+ transients that trigger smooth

muscle cell (SMC) contraction

A, receptor-operated channels (ROCs) or a membrane oscillator induces the membrane depolarization (_V) that

triggers Ca2+ entry and contraction.

B, a cytosolic Ca2+ oscillator induces the Ca2+ signal that drives contraction.

C, a cytosolic Ca2+ oscillator in interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs) or atypical SMCs induces the membrane depolarization

that spreads through the gap junctions to activate neighbouring SMCs. Reproduced from Berridge (2008), with permission

SOURCE for Figure 1: J Physiol 586.21 M. J. Berridge Smooth muscle cell calcium activation mechanisms 5048

Mechanism A.

Many SMCs are activated by membrane depolarization (_V) that opens L-type voltage-operated channels (VOCs) allowing external Ca2+ to flood into the cell to trigger contraction. This depolarization is induced either by ionotropic receptors (vas deferens) or a membrane oscillator (bladder and uterus). Themembrane oscillator, which resides in the plasma membrane, generates the periodic pacemaker depolarizations responsible for the action potentials that drive contraction. The depolarizing signal that activates gastrointestinal, urethral and ureter SMCs is described in mechanism C.

Mechanism B.

The rhythmical contractions of vascular, lymphatic, airway and corpus cavernosum SMCs depend on an endogenous pacemaker driven by a cytosolic Ca2+ oscillator that is responsible for the periodic release of Ca2+  from the endoplasmic reticulum. The periodic pulses of Ca2+ often cause membrane depolarization, but this is not part of the primary activation mechanism but has a secondary role to synchronize and amplify the oscillatory mechanism. Neurotransmitters and hormones act by modulating the frequency of the cytosolic oscillator.

Mechanism C.

A number of SMCs are activated by pacemaker cells such as the interstitial cells of Cajal (ICCs)  (gastrointestinal and urethral SMCs) or atypical SMCs (ureter). These pacemaker cells have a cytosolic oscillator that generates the repetitive Ca2+  transients that activate inward currents that spread through the gap junctions to provide the depolarizing signal (_V) that triggers contraction through mechanism A.  In the following sections, some selected SMC types will illustrate how these signalling mechanisms have been adapted to control different contractile functions with particular emphasis on how Ca2+ signals are activated.

Vascular, Lymphatic and Airway Smooth Muscle Cells

Vascular, lymphatic and airway smooth muscle, which generate rhythmical contractions over an extended period of time, have an endogenous pacemaker mechanism driven by a cytosolic Ca2+ oscillator. In addition, these SMCs also respond to neurotransmitters released from the neural innervation. In the case of mesenteric arteries, the perivascular nerves release both ATP and noradrenaline  (NA). The ATP acts first to produce a small initial contraction that is then followed by a much larger contraction when NA initiates a series of Ca2+ transients (Lamont et al. 2003). Such agonist-induced Ca2+ oscillations are a characteristic feature of the activation mechanisms of vascular (Iino et al. 1994; Lee et al.  2001; Peng et al. 2001; Perez & Sanderson, 2005b; Shaw et al. 2004) and airway SMCs (Kuo et al. 2003; Perez & Sanderson, 2005a; Sanderson et al. 2008). In some blood vessels, a specific tone is maintained by the spatial averaging of asynchronous oscillations. However, there are some vessels where the oscillations in groups of cells are synchronized resulting in the pulsatile contractions known as vasomotion (Mauban et al. 2001; Peng et al.  2001; Lamboley et al. 2003; Haddock & Hill, 2005).  Such vasomotion is also a feature of lymphatic vessels (Imtiaz et al. 2007). Another feature of this oscillatory activity is that variations in transmitter concentration are translated into a change in contractile tone through a mechanism of frequency modulation (Iino et al.  1994; Kuo et al. 2003; Perez & Sanderson, 2005a,b).  Frequency modulation is one of the mechanisms used for encoding and decoding signalling information through Ca2+ oscillations (Berridge, 2007).

The periodic pulses of Ca2+ that drive these rhythmical SMCs are derived from the internal stores through the operation of a cytosolic Ca2+  oscillator (Haddock & Hill, 2005; Imtiaz et al. 2007;  Sanderson et al. 2008). The following general model, which applies to vascular, lymphatic, airway and perhaps also to corpus cavernosum SMCs, attempts to describe the nature of this oscillator and how it can be induced or modulated by neurotransmitters. A luminal loading Ca2+ oscillation mechanism (Berridge & Dupont, 1994; Berridge, 2007)  forms the basis of this cytosolic oscillator model that depends upon the following sequential series of events  (Fig. 5).

 Fig 2 Ca2+

Figure 5. Vascular or airway SMCs are driven by a cytosolic oscillator that generates a periodic release

of Ca2+ from the endoplasmic reticulum that usually appears as a propagating Ca2+ wave

The oscillator is induced/modulated by neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine (ACh), 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT),

noradrenaline (NA) and endothelin-1 (ET-1), which act through inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (InsP3) that initiates

the oscillatory mechanism. The sequence of steps 1–9 is described in the text. Reproduced from Berridge (2008),

with permission.

SOURCE for Figure 5: J Physiol 586.21 M. J. Berridge Smooth muscle cell calcium activation mechanisms 5053

For Disruption of Calcium Homeostasis in Vascular Smooth Muscle Cells, see

Part IV: The Centrality of Ca(2+) Signaling and Cytoskeleton Involving Calmodulin Kinases and Ryanodine Receptors in Cardiac Failure, Arterial Smooth Muscle, Post-ischemic Arrhythmia, Similarities and Differences, and Pharmaceutical Targets

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part V: Heart, Vascular Smooth Muscle, Excitation-Contraction Coupling (E-CC), Cytoskeleton, Cellular Dynamics and Ca2 Signaling

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP, Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN


Section Two

Cardiomyocytes Cells: The Cardiac Calcium Signaling Mechanism

Cardiomyocytes and Ca2+ Channels

Published August 8, 2011 // JCB vol. 194 no. 3 355-365 
The Rockefeller University Press, doi: 10.1083/jcb.201101100

Cellular mechanisms of cardiomyopathy
  1. Pamela A. Harvey and
  2. Leslie A. Leinwand

+Author Affiliations

  1. Department of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, University of Colorado at Boulder, Boulder, CO 80309
  1. Correspondence to Leslie Leinwand:


DCM dilated cardiomyopathy

HCM hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

MyH Cmyosin heavy chain

RCM restrictive cardiomyopathy


The heart relies on a complex network of cells to maintain appropriate function. Cardiomyocytes, the contracting cells in the heart, exist in a three-dimensional network of endothelial cells, vascular smooth muscle, and an abundance of fibroblasts as well as transient populations of immune cells. Gap junctions electrochemically coordinate the contraction of individual cardiomyocytes, and their connection to the extracellular matrix (ECM) transduces force and coordinates the overall contraction of the heart. Intracellularly, repeating units of actin and myosin form the backbone of sarcomere structure, the basic functional unit of the cardiomyocyte (Fig. 1). The sarcomere itself consists of ∼20 proteins; however, more than 20 other proteins form connections between the myocytes and the ECM and regulate muscle contraction (Fig. 1 B). Given the complexity of the coordinated efforts of the many proteins that exist in multimeric complexes, dysfunction occurs when these interactions are disrupted.

Figure 1.

View larger version:

Figure 1. Anatomy of the cardiac sarcomere(A) Diagram of the basic organization of the sarcomere. The sarcomere forms the basic contractile unit in the cardiomyocytes of the heart. Thin filaments composed of actin are anchored at the Z line and form transient sliding interactions with thick filaments composed of myosin molecules. The M Line, I Band, and A Band are anatomical features defined by their components (actin, myosin, and cytoskeletal proteins) and appearance in polarized light. Titin connects the Z line with the M line and contributes to the elastic properties and force production of the sarcomere through its extensible region in the I Band. Coordinated shortening of the sarcomere creates contraction of the cardiomyocyte. (B) Representation of the major proteins of the cardiac sarcomere. Attachment to the ECM is mediated by costameres composed of the dystroglycan–glycoprotein complex and the integrin complex. Force transduction and intracellular signaling are coordinated through the costamere. The unique roles of each of these proteins are critical to appropriate function of the heart. T-cap, titin cap; MyBP-C, myosin-binding protein C; NOS, nitric oxide synthase.

Although the heart may functionally tolerate a variety of pathological insults, adaptive responses that aim to maintain function eventually fail, resulting in a wide range of functional deficits or cardiomyopathy. Although a multitude of intrinsic and extrinsic stimuli promote cardiomyopathies, the best described causes are the >900 mutations in genes expressed in the cardiomyocyte (Fig. 1 BWang et al., 2010). Mutations in most of these genes cause a diverse range of cardiomyopathies, many with overlapping clinical phenotypes. Mutations in sarcomeric genes are usually inherited in an autosomal-dominant manner and are missense mutations that are incorporated into sarcomeres (Seidman and Seidman, 2001). Thus far >400 mutations in 13 sarcomeric proteins including β-myosin heavy chain (β-MyHC), α-cardiac actin, tropomyosin, and troponin have been associated with cardiomyopathy ( Table I summarizes these mutated proteins.

Ca2+ regulation and calcineurin signaling

Ca2+ concentrations inside the cardiomyocyte are critically important to actin–myosin interactions. Ca2+ is sequestered within the sarcoplasmic reticulum and the sarcomere itself, which serves as an intracellular reserve that is released in response to electrical stimulation of the cardiomyocyte. After contraction, sarco/endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase sequesters the Ca2+ back into the sarcoplasmic reticulum to restore Ca2+balance. There is a clear correlation between force production and perturbation of Ca2+regulation, alterations of which might directly induce pathological, anatomical, and functional alterations that lead to heart failure via activation of GPCRs (Minamisawa et al., 1999).

Ca2+ in the cytosol can be increased to modulate sarcomere contractility by signaling through Gαq recruitment and activation of PLCβ. Ca2+ released from the sarcoplasmic reticulum activates calmodulin, which phosphorylates calcineurin, a serine/threonine phosphatase. Upon activation, calcineurin interacts with and dephosphorylates nuclear factor of activated T cells (NFAT), which then translocates into the nucleus. Calcineurin activation exacerbates hypertrophic signals and expedites the transition to a decompensatory state. Indeed, cardiac-specific overexpression of calcineurin or NFAT leads to significant cardiac hypertrophy that progresses rapidly to heart failure (Molkentin et al., 1998). Administration of antagonists of calcineurin attenuates the hypertrophic response of neonatal rat ventricular myocytes to stimuli such as phenylephrine (PE) and angiotensin II (Taigen et al., 2000).

Mechanotransduction and signaling in the cardiomyocyte

The responses of cardiomyocytes to systemic stress or genetic abnormalities are modulated by mechanosensitive mechanisms within the cardiomyocyte (Molkentin and Dorn, 2001Seidman and Seidman, 2001Frey and Olson, 2003). A complex network of proteins that connects the sarcomere to the ECM forms the basis of the mechanotransduction apparatus. For example, components of the costamere complex, which form the connection between the sarcomere and the ECM via integrins, initiate intracellular signaling and subsequently alter contractile properties and transcriptional regulation in response to membrane distortion. Mechanosensitive ion channels are also implicated in signal initiation in response to systemic stress (Le Guennec et al., 1990;Zhang et al., 2000de Jonge et al., 2002). These channels are likely responsible for acute changes that might initiate other longer-term responses in the heart but are nonetheless important to consider when examining possible transducers of systemic and tissue alterations to the cardiomyocyte.

Changes in wall stress induce signaling pathways that are associated with the development of cardiac pathology. The many intracellular signaling pathways that mediate responses to increased demand on the heart have been extensively reviewed elsewhere (Force et al., 1999Molkentin and Dorn, 2001Heineke and Molkentin, 2006). Here, we focus on pathways that are intimately involved in pathogenesis (Fig. 4). Although their effects in compensatory responses early in pathology initially increase function by promoting growth and contractility, persistent responses eventually compromise function.

Figure 4.

View larger version:

Figure 4. Signaling pathways associated with cardiac hypertrophy.

Although many pathways are associated with cardiomyopathy, up-regulation of transcription and induction of apoptosis are major mediators of pathogenic responses in the heart. The GPCR-associated pathway (dark red) can be activated by ET-1 and AngII, which are released in response to reduced contractility, and mediates contractile adaptation through increased calcium release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. Increased intracellular calcium activates calmodulin and induces activation of the transcription factor MEF2. Incorporation into the sarcomere of mutant proteins that exhibit reduced ATP efficiency inhibits the sequestration of calcium from the cytosol and further enhances increases in intracellular calcium concentration. GPCR signaling is also associated with activation of the Akt signaling pathway (light green) that induces fetal gene expression and the cardiac hypertrophic response through inhibition of GSK3β. Apoptotic pathways (light blue) are induced by cytochrome c (CytC) release from mitochondria and activation of death receptors (like FasR) by cytokines such as TNF. Calcium overload and myocyte loss significantly contribute to reduced contractility in many forms of cardiomyopathy. ET-1, endothelin-1; HDAC, histone deacetylase; NFAT, nuclear factor of activated T cells; MEF-2, myocyte enhancer factor 2; SERCA, sarco/endoplasmic reticulum calcium-ATPase; cFLIP, cellular FLICE-inhibitory protein; AngII, angiotensin II; FasR, Fas receptor.

For Disruption of Calcium Homeostasis in Cardiomyocyte Cells, see

Part VI: Calcium Cycling (ATPase Pump) in Cardiac Gene Therapy: Inhalable Gene Therapy for Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension and Percutaneous Intra-coronary Artery Infusion for Heart Failure: Contributions by Roger J. Hajjar, MD

Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Part VII: Cardiac Contractility & Myocardium Performance: Ventricular Arrhythmias and Non-ischemic Heart Failure – Therapeutic Implications for Cardiomyocyte Ryanopathy (Calcium Release-related Contractile Dysfunction) and Catecholamine Responses

Justin Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC, Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN

Section Three

The Calcium Sensor: How Calcium Ions Regulate the fusion of vesicles with cell membranes during Neurotransmission

This topic is covered in

Synaptotagmin functions as a Calcium Sensor: How Calcium Ions Regulate the fusion of vesicles with cell membranes during Neurotransmission

Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP and Aviva Lev-Ari, PhD, RN


Justin D Pearlman, MD, PhD, FACC  PENDING


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Cardiac Ca2+ Signaling: Transcriptional Control

Reporter: Larry H Bernstein, MD, FCAP

The other side of cardiac Ca2+ signaling: transcriptional control

A Domínguez-Rodríguez, G Ruiz-Hurtado, Jean-Pierre Benitah and AM Gómez

  • Ca2+ is not only a key element in excitation-contraction coupling (EC coupling), but
  • it is also a pivotal second messenger in cardiac signal transduction,
  • being able to control processes such as
    • excitability,
    • metabolism, and
    • transcriptional regulation.

Front. Physio. 2012; 3:452.        other side of cardiac Ca2+ signaling: transcriptional control

calcium release calmodulin

calcium release calmodulin

English: A rendition of the CaMKII holoenzyme ...

English: A rendition of the CaMKII holoenzyme in the (A) Closed and the (B) Open conformation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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