Cytosolic calcium plays a crucial role as a second messenger in cellular signalling. Various cell types, including hepatocytes, display Ca(2+)oscillations when stimulated by an extracellular signal. However, the biological relevance of this temporal organization remains unclear. In this paper, we investigate theoretically the effect of Ca(2+)oscillations on a particular example of cell regulation: the phosphorylation-dephosphorylation cycle controlling the activation of glycogen phosphorylase in hepatocytes. By modelling periodic sinusoidal variations in the intracellular Ca(2+)concentration, we show that Ca(2+)oscillations reduce the threshold for the activation of the enzyme. Furthermore, as the activation of a given enzyme depends on the kinetics of its phosphorylation-dephosphorylation cycle, specificity can be encoded by the oscillation frequency. Finally, using a model for signal-induced Ca(2+)oscillations based on Ca(2+)-induced Ca(2+)release, we show that realistic Ca(2+)oscillations can potentiate the response to a hormonal stimulation. These results indicate that Ca(2+)oscillations in hepatocytes could contribute to increase the efficiency and specificity of cellular signalling, as shown experimentally for gene expression in lymphocytes (Dolmetsch et al., 1998).
Copyright 2000 Academic Press.