Pancreatic α-cells exhibit oscillations in cytosolic Ca2+ (Ca2+c), which control pulsatile glucagon (GCG) secretion. However, the mechanisms that modulate α-cell Ca2+c oscillations have not been elucidated. As β-cell Ca2+c oscillations are regulated in part by Ca2+-activated K+ (Kslow) currents, this work investigated the role of Kslow in α-cell Ca2+ handling and GCG secretion. α-Cells displayed Kslow currents that were dependent on Ca2+ influx through L- and P/Q-type voltage-dependent Ca2+ channels (VDCCs) as well as Ca2+ released from endoplasmic reticulum stores. α-Cell Kslow was decreased by small-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ (SK) channel inhibitors apamin and UCL 1684, large-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ (BK) channel inhibitor iberiotoxin (IbTx), and intermediate-conductance Ca2+-activated K+ (IK) channel inhibitor TRAM 34. Moreover, partial inhibition of α-cell Kslow with apamin depolarized membrane potential ( Vm) (3.8 ± 0.7 mV) and reduced action potential (AP) amplitude (10.4 ± 1.9 mV). Although apamin transiently increased Ca2+ influx into α-cells at low glucose (42.9 ± 10.6%), sustained SK (38.5 ± 10.4%) or BK channel inhibition (31.0 ± 11.7%) decreased α-cell Ca2+ influx. Total α-cell Ca2+c was similarly reduced (28.3 ± 11.1%) following prolonged treatment with high glucose, but it was not decreased further by SK or BK channel inhibition. Consistent with reduced α-cell Ca2+c following prolonged Kslow inhibition, apamin decreased GCG secretion from mouse (20.4 ± 4.2%) and human (27.7 ± 13.1%) islets at low glucose. These data demonstrate that Kslow activation provides a hyperpolarizing influence on α-cell Vm that sustains Ca2+ entry during hypoglycemic conditions, presumably by preventing voltage-dependent inactivation of P/Q-type VDCCs. Thus, when α-cell Ca2+c is elevated during secretagogue stimulation, Kslow activation helps to preserve GCG secretion.
Keywords: calcium handling; glucagon secretion; potassium channel; α-cell.