Isolated rat hepatocytes were incubated with ATP to induce high intracellular free Ca2+ concentrations as determined with the Quin-2 method. Immediately after addition of ATP, the intracellular concentration of Ca2+ rose from 200 nM to more than 2.5 microM. It stayed at this value during the first 1/2 h; the rise was absolutely dependent on extracellular Ca2+. After the first 1/2 h the Ca2+ concentration decreased to 1-2 microM (5-10 times the control value). These high intracellular free Ca2+ concentrations did not lead to an immediate loss of cell viability. Only after 2 h of incubation a substantial number of cells lost viability. This was preceded by a decrease in cellular NADH (greater than 40%) and accompanied by a sharp increase in the intracellular Ca2+ concentration. Under these conditions the NADPH concentration was not affected. Cellular GSH was decreased to 30% of the initial value, but no lipid peroxidation or protein-thiol depletion was observed. Intracellular ATP, ADP and AMP were increased in the presence of extracellular ATP. Ca2+-dependent proteases seemed not to be involved in cell death. These observations are consistent with a collapse of mitochondrial functions as a final trigger of cell death.

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