Ion channel noise shapes the electrical activity of endocrine cells

PLoS Comput Biol. 2020 Apr 6;16(4):e1007769. doi: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1007769. eCollection 2020 Apr.


Endocrine cells in the pituitary gland typically display either spiking or bursting electrical activity, which is related to the level of hormone secretion. Recent work, which combines mathematical modelling with dynamic clamp experiments, suggests the difference is due to the presence or absence of a few large-conductance potassium channels. Since endocrine cells only contain a handful of these channels, it is likely that stochastic effects play an important role in the pattern of electrical activity. Here, for the first time, we explicitly determine the effect of such noise by studying a mathematical model that includes the realistic noisy opening and closing of ion channels. This allows us to investigate how noise affects the electrical activity, examine the origin of spiking and bursting, and determine which channel types are responsible for the greatest noise. Further, for the first time, we address the role of cell size in endocrine cell electrical activity, finding that larger cells typically display more bursting, while the smallest cells almost always only exhibit spiking behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Computational Biology
  • Endocrine Cells* / cytology
  • Endocrine Cells* / physiology
  • Ion Channels / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Neurons* / cytology
  • Neurons* / physiology
  • Patch-Clamp Techniques
  • Pituitary Gland / cytology


  • Ion Channels