Publication Date


Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation

Academic Program



Department of Physiology

First Thesis Advisor

John V. Walsh, Jr., M.D.


Calcium Channels, Exocytosis, Chromaffin Cells, Ryanodine Receptor Calcium Release Channel, Neurosecretion, Synaptic Transmission


A central concept in the physiology of neurosecretion is that a rise in cytosolic [Ca2+] in the vicinity of plasmalemmal Ca2+ channels due to Ca2+ influx, elicits exocytosis. This dissertation examines the effect on both spontaneous and elicited exocytosis of a rise in focal cytosolic [Ca2+] in the vicinity of ryanodine receptors (RYRs) due to release from internal stores in the form of Ca2+ syntillas. Ca2+ syntillas are focal cytosolic transients mediated by RYRs, which we first found in hypothalamic magnocellular neuronal terminals. (Scintilla, Latin for spark, found in nerve terminals, normally synaptic structures.) We have also observed Ca2+ syntillas in mouse adrenal chromaffin cells (ACCs). Here the effect of Ca2+syntillas on exocytosis is examined in ACCs, which are widely used as model cells for the study of neurosecretion.

Elicited exocytosis employs two sources of Ca2+, one due to influx from the cell exterior through voltage-gated Ca2+ channels (VGCCs) and another due to release from intracellular stores. To eliminate complications arising from Ca2+ influx, the first part of this dissertation examines spontaneous exocytosis where influx is not activated. We report that decreasing syntillas leads to an increase in spontaneous exocytosis measured amperometrically. Two independent lines of experimentation each lead to this conclusion. In one case release from stores was blocked by ryanodine; in another, stores were partially emptied using thapsigargin plus caffeine after which syntillas were decreased. We conclude that Ca2+syntillas act to inhibit spontaneous exocytosis, and we propose a simple model to account quantitatively for this action of syntillas.

The second part of this dissertation examines the role of syntillas in elicited exocytosis whereby Ca2+ influx is activated by physiologically relevant levels of stimulation. Catecholamine and neuropeptide release from ACCs into the circulation is controlled by the sympathetic division of the Autonomic Nervous System. To ensure proper homeostasis tightly controlled exocytic mechanisms must exist both in resting conditions, where minimal output is desirable and under stress, where maximal, but not total release is necessary. It is thought that sympathetic discharge accomplishes this task by regulating the frequency of Ca2+ influx through VGCCs, which serves as a direct trigger for exocytosis. But our studies on spontaneous release in ACCs revealed the presence of Ca2+ syntillas, which had the opposite effect of inhibiting release. Therefore, assuming Ca2+-induced Ca2+ release (CICR) via RYRs due to Ca2+ influx through VGCCs, we are confronted with a contradiction. Sympathetic discharge should increase syntilla frequency and that in turn should decreaseexocytosis, a paradox. A simple “explanation” might be that the increase in syntillas would act as a brake to prevent an overly great exocytic release. But upon investigation of this question a different finding emerged.

We examined the role of syntillas under varying levels of physiologic stimulation in ACCs using simulated action potentials (sAPs) designed to mimic native input at frequencies associated with stress, 15 Hz, and the basal sympathetic tone, 0.5 Hz. Surprisingly, we found that sAPs delivered at 15 Hz or 0.5 Hz were able to completely abolish Ca2+ syntillas within a time frame of two minutes. This was not expected. Further, a single sAP is all that was necessary to initiate suppression of syntillas. Syntillas remained inhibited after 0.5 Hz stimulation but were only temporarily suppressed (for 2 minutes) by 15 Hz stimulation, where global [Ca2+]i was raised to 1 – 2 μM. Thus we propose that CICR, if present in these cells, is overridden by other processes. Hence it appears that inhibition of syntillas by action potentials in ACCs is due to a new process which is the opposite of CICR. This process needs to be investigated, and that will be one of the very next steps in the future. Finally we conclude that syntilla suppression by action potentials is part of the mechanism for elicited exocytosis, resolving the paradox.

In the last chapter speculation is discussed into the mechanisms by which physiologic input in the form of an action potential can inhibit Ca2+ syntillas and furthermore, how the Ca2+ syntilla can inhibit exocytic output.



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