Elementary Ca2+ release signals in nerve growth factor- (NGF-) differentiated PC12 cells and hippocampal neurons, functionally analogous to the 'Ca2+ sparks' and 'Ca2+ puffs' identified in other cell types, were characterized by confocal microscopy. They either occurred spontaneously or could be activated by caffeine and metabotropic agonists. The release events were dissimilar to the sparks and puffs described so far, as many arose from clusters of both ryanodine receptors (RyRs) and inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate receptors (InsP3Rs). Increasing either the stimulus strength or loading of the intracellular stores enhanced the frequency of and coupling between elementary release sites and evoked global Ca2+ signals. In the PC12 cells, the elementary Ca2+ release preferentially occurred around the branch points. Spatio-temporal recruitment of such elementary release events may regulate neuronal activities.
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