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Many cells display oscillations in intracellular calcium resulting from the periodic release of calcium from intracellular reservoirs. Frequencies are varied, but most oscillations have periods ranging from 5 to 60 s. For any given cell, frequency can vary depending on external conditions, particularly the concentration of natural stimuli or calcium. This cytosolic calcium oscillator is particularly sensitive to those stimuli (neurotransmitters, hormones, growth factors) that hydrolyze phosphoinositides to give diacylglycerol and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (Ins1,4,5P3). The ability of Ins1,4,5P3 to mobilize intracellular calcium is a significant feature of many of the proposed models that are used to explain oscillatory activity. Receptor-controlled oscillator models propose that there are complex feedback mechanisms that generate oscillations in the level of Ins1,4,5P3. Second messenger-controlled oscillator models demonstrate that the oscillator is a component of the calcium reservoir, which is induced to release calcium by a constant input of either Ins1,4,5P3 or calcium itself. In the latter case, the process of calcium-induced calcium release might be the basis of oscillatory activity in many cell types. The function of calcium oscillations is still unknown. Because oscillator frequency can vary with agonist concentration, calcium transients might be part of a frequency-encoded signaling system. When an external stimulus arrives at the cell surface the information is translated into a train of calcium spikes, i.e., the signal is digitized. Certain cells may then convey information by varying the frequency of this digital signal.

Original publication




Journal article



Publication Date





3074 - 3082


Animals, Caffeine, Calcium, Cytosol, Endoplasmic Reticulum, Homeostasis, Humans, Intracellular Membranes, Periodicity, Phosphatidylinositols, Receptors, Cell Surface