The role of intracellular Ca2+ in the proteolytic processing and intracellular transport of secretory granule proproteins was investigated by pulse–chase radiolabelling of isolated rat islets of Langerhans. The conversion of proinsulin was inhibited by depletion of medium Ca2+ with EGTA and by blocking the transport of Ca2+ into cells with the Ca2+-channel antagonists verapamil, nifedipine and NiCl2. Proinsulin conversion was also reduced by the endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+-ATPase inhibitor thapsigargin, indicating that the process requires transport of Ca2+ into the endoplasmic reticulum. This was supported by the finding that proinsulin processing was inhibited when Ca2+ was depleted before or during pulse-labelling, but not after transport of the protein to post-endoplasmic-reticulum compartments. Similarly, the inhibition of proinsulin processing was reversed by re-introduction of medium Ca2+ around the time of radiolabelling, but not after 15 min of chase incubation. Ca2+ depletion also decreased proteolytic maturation of the prohormone convertases PC1, PC2 and carboxypeptidase H. Secretion experiments suggested that the rate and extent of proinsulin transport into secretory granules were inhibited marginally by Ca2+ depletion, whereas those of the convertases were markedly impeded. Inhibition of proinsulin conversion by Ca2+ depletion was thus not simply related to the Ca2+-dependencies of mature PC1 and PC2, but also to a requirement for endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ in proteolytic maturation of the convertases and in their transfer to secretory granules. The results also suggest that the Ca2+ required for prohormone processing in the granules enters the secretory pathway via the endoplasmic reticulum.

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