The membrane of most gastrointestinal smooth muscles shows slow waves, slow rhythmic changes in membrane potential. Slow waves serve to bring the membrane potential of smooth muscle cells to a threshold level that elicits a second electrical event known as the spike or action potential. The inward current of the spike, in most gastrointestinal smooth muscle preparations, is carried, at least in part, by calcium. Indeed, considering the narrow diameter of smooth muscle cells, some have hypothesized that the influx of calcium during the spike is sufficient for activation of the contractile machinery. Findings consistent with this include marked reduction in contractility during exposure of muscle segments to blockers of L-type calcium channels or following reductions in external calcium levels. However, it has also been observed that following exposure of muscle segments to external bathing solutions containing no added calcium plus 5 mM EGTA to remove any remaining extracellular calcium, contractions can be triggered following membrane depolarization. It is noteworthy that in isolated smooth muscle cells or in small muscle segments, during incubation in calcium-free solution, depolarization does not induce contractions. The present paper discusses the evidence in support of depolarization-mediated contractions occurring in gastrointestinal smooth muscle segments during incubation in solutions devoid of calcium.
Depolarization-stimulated contractility of gastrointestinal smooth muscle in calcium-free solution