Calcium ion as intracellular messenger and cellular toxin

H. Rasmussen, P. Barrett, J. Smallwood, W. Bollag, C. Isales

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

64 Scopus citations


Ca2+ serves a nearly universal intracellular messenger function in cell activation, but excess Ca2+ is also a cellular toxin. The possibility of Ca2+ intoxication is minimized by an elaborate autoregulatory system in which changes in Ca2+ influx rate across the plasma membrane are rapidly compensated for by parallel changes in Ca2+ efflux rate. By this mean, cellular Ca2+ homestasis is maintained so that minimal changes in total cell calcium and cytosolic Ca2+ concentration occur during sustained Ca2+-mediated responses. Rather than a sustained increase in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration, it is the localized cycling of Ca2+ across the plasma membrane that is the critically important Ca2+ messenger during the sustained phase of cellular responses mediated via surface receptors linked to the hydrolysis of phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate (PIP2). PIP2 hydrolysis gives rise to inositol(1,4,5)trisphosphate (IP3) and diacylglycerol (DAG). The IP3 acts to release Ca2+ from an intracellular pool, thereby causing a transient rise in cytosolic Ca2+ concentration. This transient Ca2+ signal activates calmodulin-dependent protein kinases transiently, and hence, causes the transient phosphorylation of a subset of cellular proteins that mediate the initial phase of the response. The DAG brings about the association of protein kinase C (PKC) with the plasma membrane where a receptor-mediated increase in Ca2+ cycling across the membrane regulates PKC activity. The sustained phosphorylation of a second subset of proteins by PKC mediates the sustained phase of the response. Hence, Ca2+ serves as a messenger during both phases of the cellular response, but its cellular sites of action, its mechanisms of generation, and its molecular targets differ during the initial and sustained phases of the response. It is likely that this Ca2+ messenger system is a target for many cellular toxins.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-25
Number of pages9
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
StatePublished - 1990
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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