The versatility of Ca2+ as an intracellular messenger stems largely from the impressive, but complex, spatiotemporal organization of the Ca2+ signals. For example, the latter when initiated by IP3 (inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate) in many cells manifest hierarchical recruitment of elementary Ca2+ release events (‘blips’ and then ‘puffs’) en route to global regenerative Ca2+ waves as the cellular IP3 concentration rises. The spacing of IP3Rs (IP3 receptors) and their regulation by Ca2+ are key determinants of these spatially organized Ca2+ signals, but neither is adequately understood. IP3Rs have been proposed to be pre-assembled into clusters, but their composition, geometry and whether clustering affects IP3R behaviour are unknown. Using patch-clamp recording from the outer nuclear envelope of DT40 cells expressing rat IP3R1 or IP3R3, we have recently shown that low concentrations of IP3 cause IP3Rs to aggregate rapidly and reversibly into small clusters of approximately four IP3Rs. At resting cytosolic Ca2+ concentrations, clustered IP3Rs open independently, but with lower open probability, shorter open duration and lesser IP3-sensitivity than lone IP3Rs. This inhibitory influence of clustering on IP3R is reversed when the [Ca2+]i (cytosolic free Ca2+ concentration) increases. The gating of clustered IP3Rs exposed to increased [Ca2+]i is coupled: they are more likely to open and close together, and their simultaneous openings are prolonged. Dynamic clustering of IP3Rs by IP3 thus exposes them to local Ca2+ rises and increases their propensity for a CICR (Ca2+-induced Ca2+ rise), thereby facilitating hierarchical recruitment of the elementary events that underlie all IP3-evoked Ca2+ signals.

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