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Modulation of Cardiac Ryanodine Receptor Channels by Alkaline Earth Cations

  • Paula L. Diaz-Sylvester,

    Affiliation Department of Pharmacology, Southern Illinois School of Medicine, Springfield, Illinois, United States of America

  • Maura Porta,

    Affiliation Department of Physiology, Midwestern University, Downers Grove, Illinois, United States of America

  • Julio A. Copello

    Affiliation Department of Pharmacology, Southern Illinois School of Medicine, Springfield, Illinois, United States of America


Cardiac ryanodine receptor (RyR2) function is modulated by Ca2+ and Mg2+. To better characterize Ca2+ and Mg2+ binding sites involved in RyR2 regulation, the effects of cytosolic and luminal earth alkaline divalent cations (M2+: Mg2+, Ca2+, Sr2+, Ba2+) were studied on RyR2 from pig ventricle reconstituted in bilayers. RyR2 were activated by M2+ binding to high affinity activating sites at the cytosolic channel surface, specific for Ca2+ or Sr2+. This activation was interfered by Mg2+ and Ba2+ acting at low affinity M2+-unspecific binding sites. When testing the effects of luminal M2+ as current carriers, all M2+ increased maximal RyR2 open probability (compared to Cs+), suggesting the existence of low affinity activating M2+-unspecific sites at the luminal surface. Responses to M2+ vary from channel to channel (heterogeneity). However, with luminal Ba2+or Mg2+, RyR2 were less sensitive to cytosolic Ca2+ and caffeine-mediated activation, openings were shorter and voltage-dependence was more marked (compared to RyR2 with luminal Ca2+or Sr2+). Kinetics of RyR2 with mixtures of luminal Ba2+/Ca2+ and additive action of luminal plus cytosolic Ba2+ or Mg2+ suggest luminal M2+ differentially act on luminal sites rather than accessing cytosolic sites through the pore. This suggests the presence of additional luminal activating Ca2+/Sr2+-specific sites, which stabilize high Po mode (less voltage-dependent) and increase RyR2 sensitivity to cytosolic Ca2+ activation. In summary, RyR2 luminal and cytosolic surfaces have at least two sets of M2+ binding sites (specific for Ca2+ and unspecific for Ca2+/Mg2+) that dynamically modulate channel activity and gating status, depending on SR voltage.


During excitation-contraction coupling in the heart, calcium ions (Ca2+) are mobilized from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) to the cytosol through ryanodine receptor Ca2+ release channels (RyR isoform 2, RyR2), located at the terminal cisternae of the SR [1], [2], [3], [4]. Previous research has shown that this massive intracellular Ca2+ release in cardiac muscle depends on extracellular Ca2+ entry through the L-type Ca2+ channels (reviewed in [5], [6]). The process was termed "calcium induced calcium release". Accordingly, it has also been shown that isolated RyR2 are Ca2+-gated channels [6], [7], [8], [9].

RyR2 display a biphasic response to cytosolic Ca2+: 10–100 µM Ca2+ induces maximal activation, whereas 1–10 mM Ca2+ is inhibitory [1], [2], [3], [4], [10]. This suggests the existence of two different types of cytosolic Ca2+ binding sites: activating sites with high affinity (micromolar) and inhibitory sites with low affinity (millimolar). RyR2 are also sensitive to cytosolic Mg2+ [11], [12]. However, the effect of Mg2+ is inhibitory. It is thought that Mg2+ inhibition of RyR2 function involves both competition of Mg2+ with Ca2+ binding to cytosolic activating sites and Mg2+ binding to additional inhibitory cytosolic Mg2+ binding sites [11], [12]. Interference of Ba2+ with cytosolic Ca2+-mediated activation of RyR2 has also been reported, although the presence of one or multiple binding sites has not been elucidated [13].

Current evidence supports the existence of additional binding sites for alkaline earth divalent ions (M2+) at the luminal surface of the RyR2 [13], [14]. Affinity to luminal Ca2+ has previously been measured for ATP-activated RyR2 and the reported values range from ∼50 µM [15] to millimolar levels [14], [16]. The inhibitory effect of luminal Mg2+ on Ca2+-activated [17] and ATP-activated RyR2 has also been reported [15]. The mechanism of action of luminal M2+ is still unclear although a combination of luminal M2+ effects on cytosolic Ca2+ and ATP modulation and the “trans effect” of lumen-to-cytosol M2+ flux acting on cytosolic M2+ sites of single RyR2 has been proposed to play a role [4], [17], [18], [19], [20].

The aim of this work was to gain new insights on how different binding sites for M2+ ions, both in the lumen and the cytosolic surfaces of the RyR2, affect the gating characteristics of channels reconstituted into planar lipid bilayers. Experiments were also conducted to determine if the flux of different divalent cations through the channel plays a role in RyR2 modulation.

The data presented here suggest that RyR2 channel behavior can be modified by M2+ interaction with cytosolic Ca2+-specific and M2+-unspecific sites (which under physiological conditions would bind Mg2+ and Ca2+). Moreover, the binding of M2+ to luminal sites differentially affected RyR2 gating kinetics and voltage-dependence as well as RyR2 sensitivity to cytosolic Ca2+ and cytosolic caffeine. Some of the results have been presented in a preliminary form [21], [22].


Drugs and chemicals

CaCl2 standard for calibration was from Word Precision Instruments Inc (Sarasota, FL). Phospholipids were obtained from Avanti (Alabaster, AL), and decane from Aldrich (Milwaukee, WI). BAPTA (1,2-bis (o-aminophenoxy) ethane-N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid), dibromoBAPTA (1,2-bis 2-bis(o-amino-5-bromophenoxy)ethane-N,N,N',N'-tetraacetic acid), Ba(OH)2, Ca(OH)2, Mg(OH)2, Sr(OH)2, CsOH, CsCl, and HEPES were obtained from Fluka (Boca Raton, Fl). All other drugs and chemicals were from Sigma or were reagent grade.

Sarcoplasmic reticulum microsomes

All procedures with animals were designed to minimize pain and suffering and conformed to the guidelines of the National Institutes of Health. SIUMED animal research procedures have AAALAC accreditation and PHS assurances numbers 000551 and A3209-01 respectively. The committee on the Use and Care of Laboratory Animals of Southern Illinois University School of Medicine reviewed and approved the protocols for animal use in our laboratory (196-05-021 and 196-08-003). Sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) microsomes were obtained from pig heart ventricle using heart homogenization and ultracentrifugation steps that follow the procedures published by Chamberlain et al. [23]. SR pellets obtained after high speed centrifugation were resuspended in 290 mM sucrose - 5 mM Imidazole buffer (pH = 7), aliquoted in cryovials (300 µl each) and kept in liquid nitrogen (better and safer long-term storage). Every month, a few cryovials were used to generate smaller aliquots of membranes (15 µl each) which were stored at –80°C for easy access. For experiments, aliquots were quickly thawed in water, kept on ice and used within 3–5 hours.

Bilayer technique

Reconstitution of RyR2 in planar lipid bilayers was performed as previously described [10]. Briefly, planar lipid bilayers were formed on 80 to 100 µm-diameter circular holes in teflon septa, separating two 1.3 ml compartments. The trans compartment was filled with HEPES-M2+ solution containing HEPES 250 mM and M(OH)2 53 mM, pH 7.4 (M2+ was either Mg2+, Ca2+, Sr2+ or Ba2+). The trans compartment was clamped at 0 mV using an Axopatch 200B patch-clamp amplifier (Axon Instruments, Foster City, CA). The cis compartment (ground) was filled with HEPES-Tris solution containing HEPES 250 mM and TrisOH 118 mM, pH 7.4. Bilayers of a 5∶4∶1 mixture of bovine brain phosphatidylethanolamine, phosphatidylserine and phosphatidylcholine (45–50 mg/ml in decane) were painted onto the holes of teflon septa from the cis side. Sarcoplasmic reticulum microsomes (5–15 µg) were then added to the cis solution followed by 500–1000 mM CsCl and 1 mM CaCl2 to promote vesicle fusion. After RyR currents (or Cl currents >100 pA at 0 mV) were observed, the cis chamber was perfused with HEPES-TRIS solution for 5 min at 4 ml/min. A mixture of BAPTA and dibromo-BAPTA was used to buffer free [Ca2+] on the cytosolic surface of the channel ([Ca2+]cyt) [10]. As previously done [10], RyR channels were identified by current amplitudes (∼3.5 pA at 0 mV), slope conductance (∼100 pS), reversal potential (∼−45 mV, trans - cis) and response to diagnostic ligands (e.g., ryanodine, Ca2+, ATP, caffeine and Ruthenium Red). RyR channel currents are depicted as positive (upward deflections of the current) in figures and reflect cation flux from the trans (luminal) to the cis (cytosolic) compartment. Membrane voltages always represent the difference between trans - cis compartments (in mV).

Single channel analysis

Channel currents were first filtered through the Axopatch 200B low-pass Bessel filter at 2 kHz, digitized at 20 kHz with an analog to digital converter (Digidata 1320, Axon Instruments) and stored on DVD. Recordings were analyzed using pClamp9 software (Axon Instruments). Analysis with this program included open times, closed times and open probabilities (Po), which were determined by half-amplitude threshold analysis of single-channel recordings as done before [10]. In multichannel experiments, the global open probability (nPo) was estimated. In the figures we show the Po (for single channels) or nPo/x (for multiple channels, with x representing the maximal number of current levels observed).

Statistical Analysis

Data are shown as means ± S.E.M. of n measurements. Statistical comparisons between groups were performed with Student's t test for paired samples. Differences were considered statistically significant at P<0.05.


In this work, we studied the modulation of RyR2 by alkaline earth cations (M2+: Mg2+, Ca2+, Sr2+ or Ba2+) added either to the cytosolic or luminal channel surface. In all cases, we measured the activity of RyR2 (from pig heart ventricular microsomes) reconstituted in planar lipid bilayers. Unless explicitly stated, recordings were done at 0 mV (transmembrane voltage).

At least two different types of M2+ binding sites exist on RyR2 cytosolic surface

Figure 1A shows representative recordings of RyR2 channels activated by Ca2+ (left panel) or Sr2+ (middle panel) added to the cytosolic compartment. All recordings were made at a holding potential (Vm) of 0 mV with luminal Ca2+ (50 mM) as current carrier. As previously reported (reviewed in [1], [2], [3], [4]), the channels activated when cytosolic Ca2+ increased to micromolar levels. Figure 1A, right panel summarizes open probability (Po) data from n = 10 RyR2 experiments (open circles). From these experiments, we estimated that the effective concentration of Ca2+ that induces half maximal Po (EC50) was 2.3±0.1 µM. Channel activation had a Hill coefficient (nH) of 2.4±0.1. RyR2 were also activated with increasing Sr2+ levels, as shown in the recordings (Fig. 1A , middle panel) and in the summary of n = 6 experiments (Fig. 1A, right panel, open triangles). However, EC50 for Sr2+ was 20.2±1.0 µM (∼10 times higher than EC50 for Ca2+). Similar as with Ca2+, nH with Sr2+ was 2.2±0.2. These nH >1 suggest that multiple interacting M2+ binding sites specific for Ca2+>Sr2+ are involved in Ca2+ or Sr2+-induced RyR2 activation. As shown in Fig. 1A (right panel, filled circles and triangles), RyR2 did not activate when cytosolic Mg2+ or Ba2+ levels were increased (from 0.1 to 500 µM). This confirms that cytosolic M2+ activating sites are selective for Ca2+ and Sr2+.

Figure 1. Effects of M2+ added to the cytosolic surface of RyR2.

(A) RyR2 are activated by micromolar levels of cytosolic Ca2+/Sr2+ but not Mg2+/Ba2+. Representative RyR2 recordings for channels activated by Ca2+ (left panel) or Sr2+ (middle panel) added to the cytosolic compartment. All recordings were made at a holding potential (Vm) of 0 mV with luminal Ca2+ (50 mM) as the current carrier. The right panel shows mean open probability (Po) of RyR2 channels as a function of free earth alkaline divalent cation concentration [M2+] varying from 100 nM to 500 µM. Po's are mean values from n = 10 (Ca2+, open circles), 6 (Sr2+, open triangles), and 5 experiments (Mg2+ and Ba2+, filled circles and triangles respectively). Values are shown as mean ± SEM. Ca2+ activated the channels with an EC50 = 2.3±0.1 µM and nH = 2.4±0.1. With Sr2+ EC50 = 20.2±1.0 µM and nH = 2.2±0.2. (B) RyR2 are inhibited by high (mM) concentrations of M2+. Left panels show representative recordings of RyR2 fully activated by cytosolic Ca2+ (100 µM) which were exposed to cumulative doses of Ca2+ added to the cytosolic side of channel. The Mean Po of RyR2 as a function of [M2+] varying from 0.25 to 10 mM is shown in the right panel. Again, luminal Ca2+ (50 mM) was current carrier and Vm = 0 mV. All M2+ tested had similar inhibitory action when applied at millimolar concentrations. IC50's were: 3.5±1.3; 4.5±0.4; 5.6±0.7 and 5.5±0.3 mM (Ba2+, Mg2+, Sr2+ and Ca2+ respectively). (C) Cytosolic Mg2+ and Ba2+ interfered Ca2+activation of RyR2. Mean Po of RyR2 at 5 µM free cytosolic Ca2+ was inhibited by addition of 1 mM Mg2+ (circles) or 1 mM Ba2+ (Triangles) (n = 5 each). Subsequent increase of cytosolic Ca2+ to 100 µM counteracted the inhibition by Mg2+ or Ba2+. (D) Ca2+ and Sr2+ counteract inhibition by Mg2+ of caffeine-activated RyR. RyR2 studies were performed at Vm = 0 mV with luminal Ca2+ (50 mM) as current carrier. In the presence of 0.1 µM free cytosolic Ca2+, RyR2 are fully activated by 10 mM caffeine (top traces). 1 mM cytosolic Mg2+ inhibited RyR2 (middle traces). Increasing cytosolic Ca2+ 1 µM (bottom left trace) or Sr2+ to ∼20 µM (bottom right trace) recovered RyR2 activity. The right panel shows that mean Po of RyR2 at 0.1 µM cytosolic Ca2+ was greatly enhanced by adding caffeine (10 mM). Addition of 1 mM Mg2+ inhibited the channels. Subsequent increase in cytosolic Ca2+ levels to >1 µM or Sr2+ to 5–50 µM recovered channel activity (n = 5).

It is well known that RyR2 response to cytosolic Ca2+ is biphasic. Micromolar Ca2+ levels activate RyR2 while millimolar Ca2+ levels inhibit the channel ([10] reviewed in [2], [5]). Yet, the RyR2 response to millimolar Ca2+ is heterogeneous, as only a fraction of the channels would be significantly inhibited by 5 mM Ca2+ [10]. This population of sensitive RyR2 was used to examine the M2+ selectivity of the cytosolic low affinity inhibitory sites. For that, we first exposed RyR2 to 200 µM cytosolic Ca2+ (to elevate Po to a peak level) and subsequently, added cumulative doses of either Ca2+, Sr2+, Ba2+ or Mg2+. As shown in Fig. 1B, all the M2+ tested had a similar inhibitory action on RyR2 Po. The concentrations for half maximal inhibition (IC50) were also similar, ranging from 3.5 to 5.7 mM (see Fig. 1B, legend).

We found that Mg2+ and Ba2+ interfere with Ca2+/Sr2+-induced activation of RyR2. Figure 1C shows that in the presence of 5 µM cytosolic Ca2+ RyR2 activated, reaching a high Po value. Subsequent addition of either 1 mM Ba2+ or 1 mM Mg2+. reduced Po by 90.5±2.8% and 92.7±4.2% respectively. The inhibition induced by cytosolic Mg2+ or Ba2+ was counteracted by further increasing cytosolic Ca2+ to 100 µM (Fig. 1 C).

It is known that caffeine increases RyR2 sensitivity to cytosolic Ca2+ activation [2], [4], [24]. In Fig. 1D we show that in the presence of 10 mM caffeine, only 100 nM cytosolic Ca2+ is required to reach a high Po level (comparable to that in Fig. 1C, with 5 µM cytosolic Ca2+). Still, the Mg2+ concentrations required to induce equivalent degrees of inhibition are the same, regardless of the presence/absence of caffeine. However, much less Ca2+ was required to counteract the effect of Mg2+ (1 µM versus 50–100 µM Ca2+ in the absence of caffeine; compare Fig. 1C and 1D). Our current and previous results [10], [11], [24] indicate that caffeine increases RyR2 sensitivity to cytosolic Sr2+ and Ca2+ activation by ∼20–50 times but it does not significantly increase RyR2 sensitivity to Mg2+ and Ba2+ inhibition.

Luminal M2+ affect the response of RyR2 to Ca2+ and caffeine

It has been reported that RyR2 channel function can also be regulated by luminal Ca2+ [13], [14], [20], [25], [26]. Fewer studies have explored the sensitivity of these luminal sites to different divalent cations [13], [15]. Figure 2A shows RyR2 sensitivity to cytosolic Ca2+ with different luminal cations (Ca2+, Sr2+, Mg2+, Ba2+ and Cs+). In these experiments, the luminal cations were also the charge carriers (the current flows in lumen-to-cytosol direction). With luminal Cs+, Ca2+ or Sr2+, the channels were activated by cytosolic Ca2+ with an EC50 ∼ 3 µM (Fig. 2A). In contrast, significantly higher cytosolic Ca2+ levels were required to activate RyR2 in the presence of luminal Ba2+ or Mg2+ (EC50 ∼ 6.7 µM and 10.4 µM, respectively). At high cytosolic Ca2+ levels (>100 µM), the maximal Po (plateau) value was similar in the presence of luminal Ca2+, Sr2+, Mg2+ or Ba2+. However, this value was significantly reduced (from Po ∼0.8 to Po ∼0.4) when we used Cs+ as charge carrier (luminal solution contained 100 mM Cs+ plus ∼500 µM luminal Ca2+). Open probabilities were much lower with luminal Cs+ solutions (where only micromolar contaminant Ca2+ was present) , but Po at 0 mV cannot be accurately determined using this approach because the channels are prone to inactivation (results not shown). In Supporting Information (Fig. S1) we show that cytosolic Ca2+ increases Po of RyR2 bathed with luminal Ca2+ by increasing the number of openings and by increasing event duration. A similar pattern (albeit with overal briefer events) is observed when RyR2 are bathed with luminal Sr2+, Mg2+ and Ba2+.

Figure 2. Effects of M2+ added to the luminal surface of RyR2.

(A) Luminal M2+ alters open probability of Ca2+-activated RyR2. Representative recordings of RyR exposed to increasing concentration of cytosolic Ca2+, in the presence of luminal Ba2+ (left panel) or Mg2+ (middle panel). Mean Po as a function of cytosolic Ca2+ observed in RyR2 bathed with different luminal cations (right panel). Maximal open probability values of channels exposed to 50 mM luminal M2+ were higher than those observed with 100 mM luminal Cs+ (p<0.05). The EC50 for cytosolic Ca2+ activation in the presence of luminal Mg2+ was 10.4±0.6 µM (n = 4). This is substantially higher than the EC50 with luminal Cs+, Ca2+ or Sr2+ (3.2±0.3 µM, n = 5; 2.9±0.3, n = 7; and 3.4±0.4 µM, n = 5 respectively). EC50 with Ba2+ was intermediate (6.7±0.3 µM, n = 7). (B) Luminal M2+ effect is more evident in the presence of caffeine. Representative recordings of RyR exposed to increasing concentration of cytosolic caffeine, in the presence of luminal Ca2+ (left panel) or Ba2+ (middle panel). The left panel shows mean Po as a function of cytosolic caffeine observed in RyR2 bathed with different luminal M2+ (n = 5 in each condition). Recordings were made at 100 nM cytosolic free Ca2+. In the presence of luminal Ca2+ or Sr2+, caffeine activated RyR2 to high Po (EC50's were 5.8±0.5 and 6.4±0.4 mM respectively). With luminal Ba2+ or Mg2+, RyR2 poorly activated or remained closed. (C) Luminal M2+ affects the gating of caffeine-activated RyR2. Left panels: representative single channel recordings. Right panels: Open and closed dwell-time distribution histograms of caffeine-activated RyR2 bathed with different luminal M2+. All recordings were made at a holding potential of 0 mV. The cytosolic solutions contained 100 nM cytosolic Ca2+ and 20 mM caffeine. Dwell open (τo) and closed (τc) times with different luminal M2+ were obtained by fitting the logarithmic dwell time distributions (open or close events distributions) with two components. Openings with luminal Ca2+ distributed with τo = 154 ± 1 ms (100% events) while closures distributed with τc1 = 1.00 ± 0.21 ms (17% of the events) and τc2 = 143 ± 9 ms (83%). Values with Sr2+ were τo1 = 1.32 ± 0.14 ms (18%), τo2 = 114 ± 5 ms (82%), τc1 = 2.2 ± 0.3 ms (28%) and τc2 = 23.0 ± 2.5 ms (72%). Values with Ba2+ were τo = 0.6 ± 0.1 ms (100%), τc1 = 1.3 ± 0.1 ms (37%) and τc2 = 23.0 ± 1.1 (63%). Values with Mg2+ were τo = 0.8 ± 0.1 ms (100%), τc1 = 0.5 ± 0.1 ms (43%) and τc2 = 11.2 ± 1.2 (57%).

As shown in Fig. 2B, we then tested the effect of different luminal M2+ on the sensitivity of single RyR2 to caffeine. These experiments were conducted in the presence of 100 nM cytosolic Ca2+. As shown in the examples with luminal Ca2+ or Ba2+ (Fig. 2B, left and center panels), in the absence of caffeine (control conditions), the RyR2 had low Po. With luminal Ca2+ or Sr2+, caffeine activated RyR2 with similar EC50 values (Fig. 2B, right panel, open circles and open triangles). These caffeine-activated channels displayed long events (openings and closures), as shown in recordings (Fig. 2C, left top panels) and in dwell-time distribution histograms (Fig. 2C, right top panels). In contrast, when the current carrier was luminal Ba2+ or Mg2+, caffeine had little effect on RyR2, which were poorly activated or remained closed (Fig. 2B, right panel filled circles and triangles). In these conditions, most opening events were brief, as shown in recordings and dwell-time distributions (Fig. 2C bottom panels). A subsequent increase in cytosolic Ca2+ to 1 µM (Supporting Information, Fig. S2), activated these channels to high Po, suggesting they were still sensitive to caffeine. However, the length of openings did not reach values observed with caffeine and luminal Ca2+. In summary, caffeine enhanced the differential effects of luminal M2+ on RyR2 behavior. It is also apparent that the stabilization of RyR2 long openings, which has been associated with a conformational state denominated “high Po gating mode” [27], [28], [29], requires luminal Ca2+. Indeed, in the absence of luminal Ca2+, RyR2 display a bursting behavior with alternating periods of low (flickering) and high Po, which is denominated modal gating [2], [28].

Luminal M2+ affect RyR2 voltage-dependence

As shown in Fig. 2, there was a shift in the EC50 for cytosolic Ca2+ activation and the changes in RyR2 gating kinetics observed with different luminal M2+ (Fig. 2). This suggests either the presence of two different luminal sites (one for all M2+ and one selective for Ca2+ and Sr2+) or that luminal M2+ can affect cytosolic sites when flowing through the channel (feed-through) [4], [15], [17], [18], [19], [20]. If feed-through regulation exists, it could positively or negatively modulate RyR2 function. On one hand, luminal Ca2+or Sr2+ flowing through the channels could bind to the high affinity activating cytosolic M2+ binding sites and increase RyR2 activity. On the other hand, any M2+ coming from the lumen could interact with low affinity inhibitory cytosolic M2+ binding sites and decrease RyR2 activity. If feed-through produces further activation of RyR2, increasing SR membrane voltage (which increases the magnitude of lumen-to cytosol M2+ flux) should induce an increase in the Po of RyR2 exposed to luminal Ca2+ or Sr2+ (i.e., voltage-dependence with a positive slope would be observed only with luminal Ca2+ or Sr2+). In contrast, if feed-through negatively modulates RyR2 function, the voltage-dependence curve for any M2+ should have a negative slope.

We tested the effect of changing membrane voltage on RyR2 activity. Tested voltages ranged from −20 to +40 mV, which changed the magnitude of Ca2+ flux from ∼1 to 8 pA. As reported before for various aspects of channel function [10], [11], we found here that RyR2 are heterogeneous. Kinetic analysis of individual RyR2 was used to sort them into two groups: one displaying low-mid Po mode with abundance of short lived gating events lasting from 1 to a few ms and the other with higher Po and slower kinetics (long lasting events usually ranging from 10 to 100 ms). In Fig. 3, we show paired recordings performed on the same mid-low Po mode RyR2 with either luminal Ca2+ (Fig. 3A) or luminal Ba2+ (Fig. 3B) as current carriers. We observed that increasing lumen-to-cytosol M2+ flux (by making Vm more positive) decreases Po regardless of the identity of the luminal M2+. Notice, however, that Po values at comparable cytosolic Ca2+ levels are higher with luminal Ca2+ than with luminal Ba2+. The differences in Po correlate with more abundant and longer openings and shorter closed times in luminal Ca2+ versus Ba2+ (See Supporting Information, Fig. S3 and Table S1). For these voltage-dependent RyR2, we found that the probability to transition from closed to open (PC→O), estimated as number of openings divided by (1 – Po) recording time, also decreases with voltage but it is more marked with luminal Ba2+ (not shown).

Figure 3. Effects of luminal M2+ on RyR2 voltage-dependence.

(A-B) Effect of luminal M2+ on cytosolic Ca2+ sensitivity and voltage dependence of a RyR2 that displays modal gating. Single-channel recordings of a RyR2 exposed to different [Ca2+]cyt with 50 mM luminal Ca2+ as current carrier (Vm = 0 mV). (B) Traces of the same channel shown in (A) after replacement of the luminal solution with 50 mM Ba2+. In (A) and (B), the bottom panels summarize the open probabilities as a function of holding voltage of the channel exposed to the indicated [Ca2+]cyt. Notice that increasing lumen → cytosol M2+ flux (by making Vm more positive) decreased Po regardless of the identity of the luminal M2+. (C–D) Effect of luminal M2+ on cytosolic Ca2+ sensitivity and voltage dependence of a RyR2 that displays high Po mode. Single-channel recordings of a RyR2 exposed to different [Ca2+]cyt with 50 mM luminal Ca2+ (C) or 50 mM luminal Ba2+ (D) as current carrier (Vm = 0 mV). Bottom panels show open probabilities as a function of voltage. In contrast to the RyR2 shown in (A) and (B), this channel is virtually voltage insensitive when luminal Ca2+ is the current carrier. However, in the presence of [Ca2+]cyt≤4 µM and luminal Ba2+, increasing Vm decreased Po. This voltage sensitivity was abolished by further activating the channel upon addition of Ca2+ to the cytosol ([Ca2+]cyt ≥9 µM).

Paired recordings showed in Fig 3C and 3D were taken from a single RyR2 displaying high Po gating mode (slow kinetics). For this type of channel we detected little (if any) voltage-induced change in Po when Ca2+ was the current carrier (Fig. 3C). However, when Ca2+ was replaced with Ba2+ (Fig. 3D) the channel displayed more frequent shorter events and definite voltage-dependence. Interestingly, voltage-dependence is not observed when the channels are fully activated by cytosolic Ca2+ (Fig. 3C and Fig. 3D). Indeed, full or partial suppression of voltage-dependence by increasing cytosolic Ca2+ levels was observed in most RyR2 (both populations). Increasing cytosolic Ca2+ levels from 2 µM to 4 µM in the presence of luminal Ba2+ increased Po to values similar to those observed in the presence of luminal Ca2+ with 2 µM cytosolic Ca2+. However, openings are still shorter with luminal Ba2+ compared to luminal Ca2+ and the increase in Po is mainly due to a shortening of closed events. Additionally, the decrease in Po at more positive SR voltage observed with luminal Ba2+ results from a decrease in open times and an increase in closed times (See Supporting Information, Fig. S4 and Table S2). For this type of RyR2, the probability of transition from closed to open is voltage-independent with luminal Ca2+ but decreased with voltage with luminal Ba2+ (not shown).

Replacement of 10% of luminal Ba2+ with Ca2+ suffices to match RyR2 behavior in 100% luminal Ca2+

As mentioned above, RyR2 activity, gating kinetics and voltage-dependence varied according to the identity of the luminal M2+. Specifically, RyR2 display slower kinetics, higher Po and less voltage-dependence with 50 mM luminal Ca2+ than with 50 mM luminal Ba2+. To test how much luminal Ca2+ is required to observe this behavior, we recorded partially activated (by 4 µM cytosolic Ca2+) RyR2 bathed with luminal 50 mM Ba2+ before and after adding increasing concentrations of Ca2+ to the luminal chamber. Subsequently, the luminal Ba2+ was completely replaced by 50 mM Ca2+. As shown in Fig. 4A, 5 mM Ca2+ suffices to increase Po to values observed with 50 mM luminal Ca2+. As show in Fig. 4B, similar results were obtained when testing RyR2 partially activated by caffeine ([Caffeine] = 20 mM; [Ca2+ ]cyt = 100 nM). Indeed, addition of 5 mM Ca2+ to the luminal chamber, increased the Po to the same levels observed with 50 mM luminal Ca2+. Notice that 0.5 mM luminal Ca2+ induced a significant increase in the Po of caffeine-activated channels while it did not affect Ca2+-activated channels. This would suggest that the interplay caffeine - luminal Ca2+ may produce a more robust change in RyR2 activity than luminal Ca2+ alone [24]. The main point to be taken from these experiments is that although the Ca2+ fluxes through the open RyR2 would be substantially different with luminal 5 mM Ca2+/45 mM Ba2+ versus 50 mM Ca2+ (as RyR2 Ca2+/Ba2+ permeability ratio is ∼1; [30]) there is no significant difference in RyR2 behavior between these conditions.

Figure 4. Effect of increasing luminal Ca2+ on the activity RyR2 bathed with luminal Ba2+

. (A) Single-channel recordings of a Ca2+-activated RyR2 ([Ca2+]cyt = 4 µM) exposed to the indicated luminal M2+ mixtures (Vm = 0 mV). The bottom panel summarizes the open probabilities obtained at three different holding voltages. Notice that the channels display maximal activation and no voltage-sensitivity when luminal Ca2+ is higher than 5 mM. (B) Single-channel recordings of a caffeine-activated RyR2 ([Caffeine] = 20 mM; Ca2+ = 100 nM) exposed to the indicated luminal M2+ mixtures (Vm = 0 mV). As shown in the bottom panel, a small increase in luminal Ca2+ (0.5 mM) was enough to induce a significant increase in Po. Further increase in luminal Ca2+ (5 mM) caused maximal activation and removed voltage-sensitivity.

As shown in Fig. 4 caffeine-activated and Ca2+-activated RyR2 channels reached high Po after luminal addition of 5 mM Ca2+, which could mask voltage-dependence. This lack of voltage-dependence was also observed in caffeine-activated RyR2 displaying partial activation (10 nM cytosolic Ca2+) with 50 mM luminal Ca2+ (Supporting Information, Fig. S5). This could reflect the fact that caffeine locks the channels in high Po mode and RyR2 displaying this kind of gating are voltage-insensitive.

Voltage-dependence does not seem to be related to luminal → cytosol M2+ flux

The decreased sensitivity to cytosolic Ca2+ observed with luminal Ba2+/Mg2+ and the negative slope of RyR2 voltage-dependence could reflect the action of the M2+ feeding through the channel and producing: i) interference of flowing Ba2+/Mg2+ with cytosolic Ca2+-mediated activation; ii) interaction of flowing M2+ with cytosolic inhibitory low affinity M2+ binding sites or iii) a combination of both effects (only for luminal Ba2+/Mg2+). In any case, very high levels of the M2+ flowing through the channels should be reached at the cytosolic surface to produce inhibition. In previous experiments, we found that 1 mM cytosolic Mg2+ produces an increase in RyR2 EC50 for cytosolic Ca2+ from ∼2 µM to ∼10-20 µM [10], [11]. A similar EC50 for cytosolic Ca2+ was found when using luminal Mg2+ as charge carrier with no cytosolic Mg2+ added (EC50 ∼ 10 µM; Fig. 2A). If this effect results from luminal Mg2+ feeding through the channels we would expect the levels of Mg2+ reaching the cytosolic RyR2 surface to be around 1 mM. However, adding 1 mM Mg2+ to the cytosolic surface of channels bathed with 50 mM luminal Mg2+ produces a very large inhibition (Fig. 5A and B). This suggests that, if any, the levels of luminal Mg2+ reaching RyR2 cytosolic sites would be much less than 1 mM. Likewise, adding 250 µM cytosolic Ba2+ to RyR2 bathed with luminal Ba2+ induced a significant decrease in Po, without affecting voltage dependence (Fig. 5C and D). This again suggests that the levels of M2+ reaching cytosolic sites are lower than 250 µM.

Figure 5. Effect of cytosolic Mg2+/Ba2+ on the behavior of RyR2 exposed to luminal Mg2+/Ba2+. (A)

Multiple-channel recording of nine RyR2 exposed to 2 µM [Ca2+]cyt with 50 mM luminal Mg2+ as current carrier (Vm = 0 mV) before (top) and after (bottom) addition of 1 mM cytosolic Mg2+. (B) Chart summarizing mean open probabilities (± S.E.M.) as a function of holding voltage of channels bathed with luminal Mg2+ under the indicated cytosolic conditions (n = 9 experiments). (C) Single-channel recording of a RyR2 exposed to 2 µM [Ca2+]cyt with 50 mM luminal Ba2+ as current carrier (Vm = 0 mV) before (top) and after (bottom) addition of 250 µM cytosolic Ba2+. (D) Mean open probabilities (± S.E.M.) as a function of holding voltage of channels bathed with luminal Ba2+ before (filled circles) and after (open circles) addition of 250 µM cytosolic Ba2+ (n = 8 experiments). (E) Dwell open time distribution histograms of a single RyR2 exposed to luminal Ba2+ in the presence (grey outline) or absence (black outline) of 250 µM cytosolic Ba2+. Openings in the absence of cytosolic Ba2+ distributed with τo1 = 1.61 ± 0.17 ms (85% events) and τo2 = 6.18 ± 0.83 ms (15%). In the presence of cytosolic Ba2+, values were τo1 = 1.09 ± 0.21 ms (70%) and τo2 = 4.25 ± 0.36 ms (30%). (F) Dwell close time distribution histograms of RyR2 bathed with luminal Ba2+ before (black outline) and after (grey outline) addition of 250 µM cytosolic Ba2+. Closures in the absence of cytosolic Ba2+ distributed with τc1 = 0.79 ± 0.24 ms (80% events) and τc2 = 2.95 ± 0.57 ms (20%). In the presence of cytosolic Ba2+, values were τc1 = 2.54 ± 0.12 ms (72%) and τc2 = 13.37 ± 0.29 ms (28%)

An important observation in this paper is that luminal Ba2+ (or Mg2+) produce high frequency of short lived events, even when the channels are exposed to fully activating cytosolic Ca2+ levels (Fig. 2C). This could be attributed to Ba2+ (or Mg2+) feeding through the channel and transiently inhibiting RyR2 by binding to cytosolic sites [15], [17], [19]. This would be in agreement with Fig. 3 and Fig. 4 where we found large effects of voltage (or luminal to cytosol Ba2+ flux) on channel kinetics. However, it has been reported that in the absence of luminal Mg2+ (i.e., with luminal Ca2+ or Cs+), cytosolic Mg2+ increases the length of closures but does not significantly affect open times [12]. We have found similar results for the effects of both cytosolic Mg2+ and Ba2+ on channels bathed with luminal Ca2+ (results not shown). Indeed, in our paired experiments, the same RyR2 now bathed with luminal Ba2+, still displayed longer closures when exposed to 250 µM cytosolic Ba2+, but open event distribution did not change (Fig. 5E and 5F). Thus, previous studies and our current results suggest that the flickering observed in the presence of luminal Ba2+ (or Mg2+) would not be due to Ba2+ feed-through acting on a cytosolic site but it would be a luminal phenomenon.

Additional experiments were carried out with the purpose of preventing the putative effects of luminal M2+ reaching cytosolic binding sites. For that, we increased the buffering power of the cytosolic solution keeping [Ca2+]cyt constant by adding mixtures containing Ca2+ and fast buffers (BAPTA/di-Bromo-BAPTA). If feed-through positively modulates RyR2 function, when using Ca2+ as charge carrier, higher levels of buffer would be expected to chelate the Ca2+ flowing from the lumen and decrease Po by preventing Ca2+ interaction with cytosolic activating sites. Conversely, if inhibitory feed-through occurs, increasing buffering should only increase the activity of RyR2 exposed to luminal Ca2+ because BAPTA and di-Bromo-BAPTA are less effective as Ba2+ chelators and they do not significantly bind to Mg2+ [31]. Unexpectedly, increasing cytosolic buffer concentration induced a concentration-dependent increase in Po, regardless of the current carrier identity (Mg2+, Ca2+or Ba2+) (Results not shown). Some RyR2 activation is also found with EGTA or EDTA, which bind much more slowly to RyR2, suggesting that the buffering effect does not depend on the on-rate or affinity of the chelator for binding to the flowing M2+. This may suggests that BAPTA at high concentrations may have some Ca2+ buffering independent effects [32]. Another possibility is that contaminating transition metals, which may inhibit RyR2 activity, could be removed by high levels of BAPTA. Consequently, we used anions known to precipitate M2+, such as 50 mM sulfate (for Ba2+), or 10 mM fluoride (for Ca2+), as alternative chelators to sequester luminal M2+ flowing into the cytosol and prevent feed-through. However, we did not find significant changes in activity (negative results, not shown).

We tested the possibility that physiological monovalent ions (K+ and Na+), which are more electronegative than Tris+ or Cs+, could compete with M2+ flux effects in the RyR2 cytosolic surface or the vestibule. In this regard, it has been reported that K+ and Na+ may affect Ca2+ sensitivity of [3H]ryanodine binding [3], [8], [10], [33]. However, we and others found similar EC50 for Ca2+ using variable levels (100–250 mM) of different cytosolic cations such as Cs+ or Tris+ [1], [2], [4], [8], [10], [12]. Supporting these observations, we found that the Po of RyR2 channels bathed with partially activating cytosolic Ca2+ (2 µM, near EC50 levels) or maximally activating cytosolic Ca2+ (10–100 µM) was not affected by Na+ or K+ (from 0 to 150 mM; n = 5 experiments each; negative results, not shown).


In this study, we found that at least four different types of binding sites are involved in the modulation of cardiac RyR2 by earth alkaline cations (M2+). On RyR2 cytosolic surface there are two different types of interacting M2+ binding sites: selective (Ca2+ > Sr2+) high affinity activating sites and nonselective (Ca2+ ∼ Mg2+ ∼ Sr2+ ∼ Ba2+) low affinity inhibitory sites. On the luminal surface of the channels, there are nonselective and Ca2+-selective binding sites (both activating and low affinity).

RyR2 were heterogeneous in their response to M2+. Heterogeneity included voltage-dependence, which varied according to the channel gating mode (RyR2 locked in high Po mode did not display voltage-dependence). Luminal M2+ differentially affected the apparent affinity to Ca2+ of cytosolic sites ("trans effect"). This effect could be due to the ability of luminal Ca2+/Sr2+ to stabilize RyR2 high Po gating mode (not found in presence of luminal Ba2+/Mg2+). Our results suggest that the differential effects of luminal M2+ mainly result from them acting in different luminal sites and would not be due to the luminal M2+ flowing through the pore and interacting with cytosolic binding sites.

Cytosolic M2+ binding sites for RyR2 activation and inhibition

In the presence of 50 mM luminal Ca2+, both Ca2+ and Sr2+ bind to M2+ activating sites in the cytosolic surface of RyR and activate the channels in a cooperative fashion (nH >1) to high Po levels (>0.80) with different relative affinities (EC50 = 1.5 and 15 µM respectively). Selectivity of skeletal and cardiac RyRs for Ca2+ and Sr2+ as activators has been previously reported [4], [34], [35], however, there are discrepancies among these reports regarding the relative affinities for Ca2+ versus Sr2+. This could reflect differences between isoforms (RyR1 versus RyR2) and/or experimental conditions (e.g. presence/absence of Mg2+/ATP).

Mg2+ and Ba2+ do not induce channel openings, instead, they interfered with Ca2+ with Sr2+ activation. Many studies have previously defined the modulation of RyRs by Mg2+ [2], [4], [11], [12]. The novelty here is that Mg2+, the alkaline earth cation with the smallest radius (0.078 nm) and Ba2+ (the biggest one with 0.143 nm) bind to inhibitory cytosolic sites with equivalent affinity. The characteristics of selectivity usually described for M2+ binding sites [36] suggest that Ca2+ and Sr2+ (which have intermediate sizes, 0.105 and 0.127 nm respectively) would be able to bind to the same inhibitory sites. Mg2+ competition with Ca2+ binding to the activating cytosolic M2+ binding site has been proposed [1], [2], [3], [4], [11], [12]. In principle, the results presented in Fig. 1B and 1C would be in agreement with the hypothesis of competition for the same site, as Mg2+ and Ba2+ were more effective inhibitors at lower cytosolic Ca2+ concentrations. However, in the presence of caffeine, Ca2+ and Sr2+ activated RyRs more efficiently, while Mg2+ inhibitory efficiency was unchanged (Fig. 1D). This suggests that micromolar Ca2+ and Sr2+ bind to different cytosolic sites (referred as “Site A” [15]) than millimolar Mg2+ and Ba2+ (which bind to “Inhibitory M2+ Site 1”).

Our data also suggests that the low affinity inhibitory M2+ binding sites responsible for the bell-shaped response to cytosolic Ca2+ are non-selective (Fig. 1B). These sites have been proposed to be a different entity (putatively, “Inhibitory M2+ Site 2”) than the sites interfering with Ca2+ activation (Site 1) [15], [19]. As found here, these low affinity inhibitory M2+ Sites 1 and 2 cannot be distinguished based on M2+ selectivity. In our opinion, functional studies of RyR2 sensitivity to M2+ are also inconclusive. As shown here and as previously reported, occupation of Site 1 or 2 results in different kinetics [11], [12], [13]. Indeed, cytosolic Mg2+ and Ba2+ increase closed times of partially activated RyRs whereas addition of millimolar cytosolic M2+ correlates with a decrease in open times. In principle, these differences in response to M2+ may suggest two different cytosolic inhibitory M2+ sites. However, RyR2 gating status, which is heavily influenced by Ca2+ may also play a role [28], [29]. As we previously reported, low Po mode is more sensitive to Mg2+ inhibition [10]. Thus, predominant inhibition of short events, which are more abundant at 5 µM cytosolic Ca2+, may mask flickery block during long openings. In contrast, at >100 µM cytosolic Ca2+, long openings are much more frequent [28] and the weight of the flickering block is much more manifest.

All partially activated RyR2 (cytosolic Ca2+<5 µM) are sensitive to inhibition by 1 mM Mg2+ [10], [12], while a significant fraction of fully activated RyR2 (cytosolic Ca2+ ∼ 200 µM) are not inhibited by increasing cytosolic Ca2+ to 5 mM [10], [37]. This could be indicative of different entities, with M2+ Site 1 present in all RyR2 and Site 2 present in ∼50% of the channels. Still, the observed differences may also reflect variability in RyR2 sensitivity to M2+. Indeed, we found that IC50 for RyR2 inhibition by Mg2+ (Site 1) range from 0.2 to 1 mM [11]. Thus, for Site 2, inhibition ranges may also be variable and much higher than 5–10 mM. Increasing cytosolic M2+ from 1 to 10 mM could generate additional unspecific electrostatic effects on the cytosolic RyR2 surface. Still, to confirm if the cytosolic inhibitory M2+ binding sites encompass one or more domains (Site 1 and Site 2) in the RyR2 molecule further molecular/structural data are required.

RyR2 activation by luminal M2+

We found that the maximal Po reached by RyR2 in the presence of luminal M2+ is higher than that with luminal Cs+. Accordingly, it has been reported that there are Ca2+-sensing sites, accessible from the SR lumen, which participate in the regulation of RyRs [14], [15], [20], [25], [26]. Our data suggest that one type of luminal M2+ binding site, selective for Ca2+ and Sr2+, would affect RyR2 behavior. We also found that there are non-selective luminal M2+ binding sites where all M2+ (including Mg2+) may produce an increase in maximal Po. Calsequestrin (CSQ), a regulatory protein closely associated to RyR2, has been proposed to have a role in sensing luminal Ca2+ [1], [2], [3], [4], [38]. However, it has been suggested that luminal Ca2+ levels greater than 5 mM dissociate CSQ from RyR [38]. Since all of our channel reconstitutions were performed in the presence of 50 mM luminal Ca2+, RyR2-CSQ association may have been disrupted in our experiments. Thus, the luminal M2+ activation observed here would more likely involve M2+ binding sites located on the RyR2 protein itself.

In our hands, Sr2+ is the closest substitute for luminal Ca2+ (regarding the responses to cytosolic Ca2+ and caffeine). Notice, however, that saturating Sr2+ levels did not produce the same stabilization of high Po mode in caffeine-activated RyR2 as observed with luminal Ca2+ (Fig. 2C). Furthermore, the EC50 for cytosolic Sr2+ activation of RyR2 in the presence of luminal Ca2+ was less (∼ 20 µM) than that reported in previous studies for cytosolic Sr2+ activation in presence of luminal Sr2+ (EC50 ∼50 µM) [39]. Studies in cells also indicate that Ca2+ and Sr2+ differ in their ability to generate sparks [39].

Large differences in RyR2 behavior were found with luminal Ca2+ versus luminal Ba2+ or Mg2+. We estimate (paired comparisons) the probability of a RyR2 to open from the closed state (PC→O). At equivalent cytosolic Ca2+, PC→O was 2–20 times higher in RyR2 bathed with luminal Ca2+ versus luminal Ba2+ (the differences were more marked at positive SR holding voltages). This suggests that luminal Ba2+ decreases the on-rate and increases the off-rate of Ca2+ binding to activating cytosolic sites. A previous report found that at 0 mV, the effects of luminal Ba2+ on Po are only noticeable in caffeine-activated RyR2 [13]. However, in Ca2+-activated RyR2, equivalent Po (in the presence of luminal Ba2+ versus luminal Ca2+) was maintained by increasing the frequency of openings, which compensated the decrease in open times [13]. In our paired experiments, we only reached equivalent Po values by increasing cytosolic Ca2+ levels of RyR2 bathed with luminal Ba2+ (Supporting Information, Fig. S4 and Table S2). At equivalent Po values, the number of events with luminal Ba2+ was ∼5 times the number of events observed with luminal Ca2+. Three studies carried out in the presence of cytosolic ATP (1–2 mM) found that RyR function is largely affected by changes in luminal Ca2+ levels, but there were discrepancies regarding the sensitivity of luminal Ca2+ binding sites, with reported values ranging from micromolar to millimolar [14], [15], [16]. In the absence of ATP, increasing luminal Ca2+ to millimolar levels was reported to have no effect on maximal Po [14]. This is in disagreement with our results and a recent report [18] where high levels of luminal M2+ significantly increased maximal Po compared to that in the presence of luminal Cs+.

Using ATP-activated channels Laver et al. (2008) found that 50 µM Mg2+ decreases the activity of RyR2 both at negative (no significant Mg2+ flux) and positive SR voltages. The effects of luminal Mg2+ were attributed to competition with luminal Ca2+ sites and with cytosolic Ca2+ sites (feed-through modulation) [15]. However, other reports indicated that in absence of ATP, Mg2+ fluxes larger than 1 pA are required to observe voltage-dependence [17]. Different to our studies with saturating luminal Mg2+ and absence of ATP, these previous reports did not describe an increase in maximal Po compared with luminal Cs+ alone.

Is RyR2 voltage-dependence a consequence of feed-through regulation?

Voltage dependence, observed with high flux of luminal divalent ions has been attributed to the interaction of the M2+ moving through the pore with activating and inhibitory sites in the cytosolic side of the channel [15], [17], [18], [19].

In our experiments we used saturated luminal M2+ which should maximize feed-through effects. All RyR2 bathed with luminal Ba2+ or Mg2+ display modal gating and exhibit voltage-dependence, even in the presence of caffeine. In contrast, when RyR2 are bathed with luminal Ca2+ a population displaying long openings (high Po – slow kinetics gating mode) is not sensitive to voltage. Our results differ from a previous study where inhibitory effects of flux were found to be nearly equivalent with both Mg2+ and Ca2+ [18]. Indeed, in the presence of luminal Ca2+ only the subset displaying modal gating was voltage-dependent but addition of caffeine switched them to high Po mode and abolished their voltage-dependence. These observations suggest that modal gating (ability to switch between high and low Po modes) is required to observe voltage-dependence.

In the population of RyR2 where voltage dependence is observed, Po decreased with increased M2+ flux (i.e., with increased SR positive voltage). It has been suggested that activating and/or inhibitory cytosolic Ca2+ binding sites of cardiac RyR2 and skeletal RyR1 can sense the Ca2+ flux through the open channel pore (feed-through M2+ regulation) [18], [19], [25]. Here we found that the EC50 for cytosolic Ca2+ is higher with luminal Mg2+/Ba2+ versus Ca2+/Sr2+ flowing through the channel (Fig. 2A). Previous studies suggested that if luminal Ba2+ or Mg2+ flowing through the pore reaches a concentration of ∼ 1 mM at the channel cytosolic surface, we should expect a change in the EC50 for cytosolic Ca2+ from 2 to ∼10–20 µM [11], [12], [13]. However, the data in Fig. 5 indicate that the amount of Ba2+ (or Mg2+) feeding through the channel would be much less than 0.25 mM, which could not explain the magnitude of the effect of luminal Ba2+ (or Mg2+) versus luminal Ca2+ (Fig. 2). Moreover, voltage-dependence of RyR2 bathed with luminal Ba2+ was not affected by the addition of cytosolic 0.25 mM Ba2+ (Fig. 5D), which is unexpected as cytosolic levels would be higher than those reached by the luminal Ba2+ feeding through the pore. In this regard, the percentage of inhibition of Po by cytosolic Ba2+ at positive voltages is higher than that at negative voltages. However, higher fluxes of lumenal Ba2+ feeding through the pore at positive voltages should have better outcompeted cytosolic Ba2+ inhibitory effects. The additive effects of luminal Ba2+ with cytosolic Ba2+ may be a consequence of luminal Ba2+ promoting flickering (i.e. fast kinetics with short events and low Po mode) and of cytosolic Ba2+ being more effective to block RyR displaying “low Po” mode [11]. Notice that “low Po” mode is promoted by positive voltages; i.e., by increased flux of luminal M2+ (See Figs. S3 and S4 and Tables S1 and S2).

Replacement of 5 mM of the luminal Mg2+ or Ba2+ with Ca2+ makes RyR2 behavior (activity, kinetics and voltage dependence) indistinguishable from that obtained with 100% (50 mM) luminal Ca2+. As RyR2 are equally permeable to all M2+ [2], [4], 5 mM Ca2+ would only account for 10% of the M2+ feeding through the pore, which may not explain the magnitude of the effect on channel properties. A possible explanation would be that 5 mM Ca2+ saturates the Ca2+-selective luminal M2+ binding sites, as suggested by previous studies [2], [14], [19].

Our experiments also support the idea of open RyR2 being insensitive to activation by Ca2+ feeding-through the channel as proposed by others in the absence of ATP and stimulating cofactors [19]. Although in this article we used fast chelating buffers (BAPTA and Bromo BAPTA), in a series of early experiments we compared RyR2 activity measured at 200 nM cytosolic Ca2+ using EGTA (n = 16) versus BAPTA/diBromoBAPTA (n = 37) and found no significant differences in Po (0.014±0.004, n = 16 and 0.012±.026, n = 25). Analogous conclusions were obtained from similar experiments performed using even larger skeletal RyR1 populations (data not shown). If there were any activating effects of Ca2+ flux, we would expect large differences in Po among experiments with different buffers, as it is estimated that Ca2+ levels at the cytosolic surface would reach much higher levels with EGTA (thousand times slower kon for binding Ca2+) than with BAPTA [40]. Even with BAPTA, Ca2+ fluxes at positive voltages would have increased cytosolic [Ca2+] to micromolar levels [40]. This increase in cytosolic Ca2+ should have activated RyR2 (i.e., the slope of the voltage-dependence curve should be positive) and this effect should have been more evident for partially activated RyR2 (bathed with 100 nM Ca2+) in the presence of caffeine, where RyR2 sensitivity to cytosolic Ca2+ increases ∼20 times and full activation only requires cytosolic [Ca2+] ∼ 500 nM. As indicated, much higher levels of Ca2+ accumulate at the cytosolic surface of an open RyR2 with Ca2+ currents of up to 10 pA [40]. Our results suggest that activating effects of Ca2+ feeding through the pore may not be observed even in the presence of the stimulating cofactor caffeine.

As stated above, our results suggest that voltage-dependence requires modal gating. It is apparent that SR voltage depolarization destabilizes long openings and then short openings and long closures become more and more abundant. As shown, the effect of voltage can be counteracted in part by increasing cytosolic Ca2+ levels. This RyR2 behavior mirrors that of BK channels, which are also voltage- and Ca2+-gated channels [41]. Modal gating in K+ channels seems to result from dynamic interactions between various channel structures, including the pore helix, selectivity filter and external vestibule [42]. Similar mechanism could be in play for RyR2, which apparently have some structural homology with K+ channels [43], [44].

Speculations on the role of Ca2+/Mg2+-mediated regulation of RyR2 function in cells

Our current and previously published data [10], [11], indicate that in cells, triggering of RyR2-mediated SR Ca2+ release by Ca2+ will depend on luminal and cytosolic resting levels of Ca2+ and Mg2+ as well as on the SR – cytosol membrane voltage. During the Ca2+ release event (usually generated by an array of RyR2 activating/deactivating in synchrony), luminal Ca2+ levels will decrease and cytosolic Ca2+ levels will increase. In contrast, cytosolic and luminal Mg2+ levels are expected to remain relatively constant (due to the Donnan effect of the polyanion CSQ, the SR luminal Mg2+ concentration would be expected to be similar or higher than that in the cytosol, which is ∼1 mM). Consequently, when intra-SR Ca2+ levels fall, Mg2+ would maintain occupancy of luminal non-selective M2+ binding sites and keep the channels active (at least partially) while cytosolic Ca2+ remain higher than 10 µM, which are the estimated Ca2+ levels on the RyR2 cytosolic surface [40], [45]. RyR2 activity could be reduced by a decrease in luminal Ca2+ levels, which in concomitance with a decrease in the driving force for Ca2+ flux, could greatly decrease SR Ca2+ release. On the other hand, the increase in cytosolic Ca2+ levels would tend to maintain RyR2 channels active even with lower levels of luminal Ca2+. How RyR2 close in cells for the termination of Ca2+ release is a process of still unknown nature [46].

RyR2 are known to alternate between two gating modes: low Po mode and high Po mode [27], [28]. According to our data, Ca2+-selective luminal sites may be important to stabilize RyR2 in high Po mode. This suggests that a switch from high to low Po mode may have physiological significance for RyR2 deactivation following SR Ca2+ depletion while the cytosolic Ca2+ levels remain elevated. Additionally, our results and previous reports suggest that open RyR2 do not sense the local increase in cytosolic Ca2+ they produce via luminal-to-cytosol flux. This may imply that if multiple RyR2 open simultaneously [47], [48] as during a Ca2+ spark [5] and they do not sense the released Ca2+ after activation, they might still be able to close in some synchrony, even when cytosolic Ca2+ levels remain high. For this, the RyR2 should remain refractory to activation by cytosolic Ca2+ for some time after they close (few milliseconds), as to allow for the dissipation of the local Ca2+ levels.

In conclusion, our studies indicate that the regulation of single RyR2 by M2+ (including physiological relevant ions such as Mg2+ and Ca2+) is a complex process which involves several interacting M2+ binding sites (luminal and cytosolic) that may dynamically modulate the function of heterogeneous RyR2 during local and global Ca2+ release events.

Supporting Information

Figure S1.

Effect of cytosolic Ca2 on RyR2 kinetics. Top: Open probability (Po, filled circles) and Probability of transition from close to open (PC→O, open circles) of RyR2 bathed with luminal Ca2+ (50 mM) as a function of cytosolic Ca2+. Bottom: Time constants for openings as a function of cytosolic Ca2+. Open time distributions were fitted with 2 components (τ1 and τ2).


Figure S2.

Effect of cytosolic Ca2 on RyR2 kinetics. Representative traces of consecutive 4 minute-recordings (at 0 mV) of a RyR2 bathed with luminal Mg2+ (50 mM) under various conditions as indicated. Notice that in presence of caffeine, channels reach Po ∼0.5 with 0.3 µM cytosolic Ca2+ but openings are short.


Figure S3.

Effect of luminal Ca2+/Ba2+ on the kinetics of RyR2 exposed to the same cytosolic Ca2+ levels. Dwell time distribution histograms for openings (left panels) and closures (right) on the same single RyR2 (paired measurements) in the presence of luminal Ca2+ (black outlines) or luminal Ba2+ (grey outlines). Cytosolic [Ca2+] was 4 µM. All four-minute recordings were taken at −20 mV (top panels), 0 mV (middle) and +20 mV (bottom).


Figure S4.

Effect of luminal Ca2+/Ba2+ on the kinetics of RyR2 displaying similar open probabilities. Dwell time distribution histograms for openings (left panels) and closures (right) on the same single RyR2 (paired measurements) with luminal Ca2+ (black outlines) or luminal Ba2+ (grey outlines). Cytosolic [Ca2+] concentration was adjusted so that the open probabilities at 0 mV were similar in the presence of luminal Ca2+ compared with luminal Ba2+ ([Ca2+]cyt  = 2 µM and 4 µM with luminal Ca2+ and luminal Ba2+, respectively). All four-minute recordings were taken at the indicated holding voltages.


Figure S5.

Effect of holding voltage on caffeine-activated RyR2. Mean open probabilities (±S.E.M.) as a function of holding voltage of RyR2 bathed with luminal Ca2+. All channels were tested in the presence of 20 mM caffeine and at the indicated cytosolic Ca2+ levels.


Table S1.

Kinetic parameters calculated from the dwell time distribution histograms depicted in Supporting Information, Figure S3.


Table S2.

Kinetic parameters calculated from the dwell time distribution histograms depicted in Supporting Information, Figure S4.



We thank J.T. Neumann and V. Vullmahn for their ctitical input. We also thank Mrs. J. Bryan Office System Specialist, SIU–SOM, for proofreading the manuscript.

Author Contributions

Conceived and designed the experiments: PLD-S MP JAC. Performed the experiments: PLD-S MP JAC. Analyzed the data: PLD-S MP JAC. Contributed reagents/materials/analysis tools: JAC. Wrote the paper: PLD-S JAC. Revised the manuscript: MP.


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