The ability of alpha-adrenergic agonists and vasopressin to increase the mitochondrial volume in hepatocytes is dependent on the presence of extracellular Ca2+. Addition of Ca2+ to hormone-treated cells incubated in the absence of Ca2+ initiates mitochondrial swelling. In the presence of extracellular Ca2+, A23187 (7.5 microM) induces mitochondrial swelling and stimulates gluconeogenesis from L-lactate. Isolated liver mitochondria incubated in KCl medium in the presence of 2.5 mM-phosphate undergo energy-dependent swelling, which is associated with electrogenic K+ uptake and reaches an equilibrium when the volume has increased to about 1.3-1.5 microliter/mg of protein. This K+-dependent swelling is stimulated by the presence of 0.3-1.0 microM-Ca2+, leading to an increase in matrix volume at equilibrium that is dependent on [Ca2+]. Ca2+-activated K+-dependent swelling requires phosphate and shows a strong preference for K+ over Na+, Li+ or choline. It is not associated with either uncoupling of mitochondria or any non-specific permeability changes and cannot be produced by Ba2+, Mn2+ or Sr2+. Ca2+-activated K+-dependent swelling is not prevented by any known inhibitors of plasma-membrane ion-transport systems, nor by inhibitors of mitochondrial phospholipase A2. Swelling is inhibited by 65% and 35% by 1 mM-ATP and 100 microM-quinine respectively. The effect of Ca2+ is blocked by Ruthenium Red (5 micrograms/ml) at low [Ca2+]. Spermine (0.25 mM) enhanced the swelling seen on addition of Ca2+, correlating with its ability to increase Ca2+ uptake into the mitochondria as measured by using Arsenazo-III. Mitochondria derived from rats treated with glucagon showed less swelling than did control mitochondria. In the presence of Ruthenium Red and higher [Ca2+], the mitochondria from hormone-treated animals showed greater swelling than did control mitochondria. These data imply that an increase in intramitochondrial [Ca2+] can increase the electrogenic flux of K+ into mitochondria by an unknown mechanism and thereby cause swelling. It is proposed that this is the mechanism by which alpha-agonists and vasopressin cause an increase in mitochondrial volume in situ.

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