Sodium/calcium exchange: its physiological implications

Physiol Rev. 1999 Jul;79(3):763-854. doi: 10.1152/physrev.1999.79.3.763.


The Na+/Ca2+ exchanger, an ion transport protein, is expressed in the plasma membrane (PM) of virtually all animal cells. It extrudes Ca2+ in parallel with the PM ATP-driven Ca2+ pump. As a reversible transporter, it also mediates Ca2+ entry in parallel with various ion channels. The energy for net Ca2+ transport by the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger and its direction depend on the Na+, Ca2+, and K+ gradients across the PM, the membrane potential, and the transport stoichiometry. In most cells, three Na+ are exchanged for one Ca2+. In vertebrate photoreceptors, some neurons, and certain other cells, K+ is transported in the same direction as Ca2+, with a coupling ratio of four Na+ to one Ca2+ plus one K+. The exchanger kinetics are affected by nontransported Ca2+, Na+, protons, ATP, and diverse other modulators. Five genes that code for the exchangers have been identified in mammals: three in the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger family (NCX1, NCX2, and NCX3) and two in the Na+/Ca2+ plus K+ family (NCKX1 and NCKX2). Genes homologous to NCX1 have been identified in frog, squid, lobster, and Drosophila. In mammals, alternatively spliced variants of NCX1 have been identified; dominant expression of these variants is cell type specific, which suggests that the variations are involved in targeting and/or functional differences. In cardiac myocytes, and probably other cell types, the exchanger serves a housekeeping role by maintaining a low intracellular Ca2+ concentration; its possible role in cardiac excitation-contraction coupling is controversial. Cellular increases in Na+ concentration lead to increases in Ca2+ concentration mediated by the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger; this is important in the therapeutic action of cardiotonic steroids like digitalis. Similarly, alterations of Na+ and Ca2+ apparently modulate basolateral K+ conductance in some epithelia, signaling in some special sense organs (e.g., photoreceptors and olfactory receptors) and Ca2+-dependent secretion in neurons and in many secretory cells. The juxtaposition of PM and sarco(endo)plasmic reticulum membranes may permit the PM Na+/Ca2+ exchanger to regulate sarco(endo)plasmic reticulum Ca2+ stores and influence cellular Ca2+ signaling.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence / genetics
  • Animals
  • Base Sequence / genetics
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Sodium-Calcium Exchanger / genetics
  • Sodium-Calcium Exchanger / physiology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship


  • Sodium-Calcium Exchanger