Inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (InsP3)-induced Ca2+ release from intracellular stores is generally assumed to be a ‘quantal’ process because low InsP3 concentrations mobilize less Ca2+ than high concentrations and a submaximal concentration does not release all the InsP3-mobilizable Ca2+. However, some recent reports questioned the generally accepted view that a low dose of InsP3 is unable to empty the whole store. We have now challenged the stores of permeabilized A7r5 cells in InsP3 for much longer periods than previously reported, to assess directly whether the slow phase of the release would empty the whole store (a non-quantal response) or only a fraction of it (a quantal response). Addition of a maximal [InsP3] at the end of a prolonged (92 min) stimulation with a submaximal [InsP3] resulted in additional Ca2+ release. Experiments in which the stores were challenged with different submaximal InsP3 concentrations for long time periods revealed that a lower [InsP3] never released the same amount of Ca2+ as a higher [InsP3]. This quantal pattern of Ca2+ release occurred both at 25 °C and at 4 °C. There was a time-dependent increase in the fraction of Ca2+ recruited by the lower compared with the higher [InsP3]. This recruitment of Ca2+ persisted if the [InsP3] was decreased, but was largely prevented by palmitoyl-CoA, a potent blocker of the luminal Ca2+ translocation between individual store units. ATP, in the presence of InsP3, released Ca2+ under conditions permitting the recruitment of no additional InsP3 receptors, indicating that an all-or-none emptying of a fraction of the stores cannot be the only mechanism responsible for quantal Ca2+ release in A7r5 cells. We conclude that some of the previously published evidence for a non-quantal Ca2+ release pattern should be reinterpreted.

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