Receptor-activated Ca2+ channels (RACCs) play a central role in regulation of the functions of animal cells. Together with voltage-operated Ca2+ channels (VOCCs) and ligand-gated non-selective cation channels, RACCs provide a variety of pathways by which Ca2+ can be delivered to the cytoplasmic space and the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) in order to initiate or maintain specific types of intracellular Ca2+ signal. Store-operated Ca2+ channels (SOCs), which are activated by a decrease in Ca2+ in the ER, are a major subfamily of RACCs. A careful analysis of the available data is required in order to discern the different types of RACCs (differentiated chiefly on the basis of ion selectivity and mechanism of activation) and to properly develop hypotheses for structures and mechanisms of activation. Despite much intensive research, the structures and mechanisms of activation of RACCs are only now beginning to be understood. In considering the physiological functions of the different RACCs, it is useful to consider the specificity for Ca2+ of each type of cation channel and the rate at which Ca2+ flows through a single open channel; the locations of the channels on the plasma membrane (in relation to the ER, cytoskeleton and other intracellular units of structure and function); the Ca2+-responsive enzymes and proteins; and the intracellular buffers and proteins that control the distribution of Ca2+ in the cytoplasmic space. RACCs which are non-selective cation channels can deliver Ca2+ directly to specific regions of the cytoplasmic space, and can also admit Na+, which induces depolarization of the plasma membrane, the opening of VOCCs and the subsequent inflow of Ca2+. SOCs appear to deliver Ca2+ specifically to the ER, thereby maintaining oscillating Ca2+ signals.

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