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Long-Lasting Sparks: Multi-Metastability and Release Competition in the Calcium Release Unit Network.

  • Author(s): Song, Zhen;
  • Karma, Alain;
  • Weiss, James N;
  • Qu, Zhilin
  • et al.

Calcium (Ca) sparks are elementary events of biological Ca signaling. A normal Ca spark has a brief duration in the range of 10 to 100 ms, but long-lasting sparks with durations of several hundred milliseconds to seconds are also widely observed. Experiments have shown that the transition from normal to long-lasting sparks can occur when ryanodine receptor (RyR) open probability is either increased or decreased. Here, we demonstrate theoretically and computationally that long-lasting sparks emerge as a collective dynamical behavior of the network of diffusively coupled Ca release units (CRUs). We show that normal sparks occur when the CRU network is monostable and excitable, while long-lasting sparks occur when the network dynamics possesses multiple metastable attractors, each attractor corresponding to a different spatial firing pattern of sparks. We further highlight the mechanisms and conditions that produce long-lasting sparks, demonstrating the existence of an optimal range of RyR open probability favoring long-lasting sparks. We find that when CRU firings are sparse and sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca load is high, increasing RyR open probability promotes long-lasting sparks by potentiating Ca-induced Ca release (CICR). In contrast, when CICR is already strong enough to produce frequent firings, decreasing RyR open probability counter-intuitively promotes long-lasting sparks by decreasing spark frequency. The decrease in spark frequency promotes intra-SR Ca diffusion from neighboring non-firing CRUs to the firing CRUs, which helps to maintain the local SR Ca concentration of the firing CRUs above a critical level to sustain firing. In this setting, decreasing RyR open probability further suppresses long-lasting sparks by weakening CICR. Since a long-lasting spark terminates via the Kramers' escape process over a potential barrier, its duration exhibits an exponential distribution determined by the barrier height and noise strength, which is modulated differently by different ways of altering the Ca release flux strength.

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