Voltage-Gated Calcium Channels: Key Players in Sensory Coding in the Retina and the Inner Ear

Physiol Rev. 2018 Oct 1;98(4):2063-2096. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00030.2017.


Calcium influx through voltage-gated Ca (CaV) channels is the first step in synaptic transmission. This review concerns CaV channels at ribbon synapses in primary sense organs and their specialization for efficient coding of stimuli in the physical environment. Specifically, we describe molecular, biochemical, and biophysical properties of the CaV channels in sensory receptor cells of the retina, cochlea, and vestibular apparatus, and we consider how such properties might change over the course of development and contribute to synaptic plasticity. We pay particular attention to factors affecting the spatial arrangement of CaV channels at presynaptic, ribbon-type active zones, because the spatial relationship between CaV channels and release sites has been shown to affect synapse function critically in a number of systems. Finally, we review identified synaptopathies affecting sensory systems and arising from dysfunction of L-type, CaV1.3, and CaV1.4 channels or their protein modulatory elements.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels / metabolism*
  • Ear, Inner / metabolism*
  • Ear, Inner / physiology
  • Humans
  • Retina / metabolism*
  • Retina / physiology
  • Sensory Receptor Cells / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology


  • Calcium Channels