Myoblast fusion requires cytosolic calcium elevation but not activation of voltage-dependent calcium channels

Cell Calcium. 1996 May;19(5):365-74. doi: 10.1016/s0143-4160(96)90109-8.


Many studies of in vitro skeletal myogenesis have demonstrated that fusion of myoblasts into multinucleated myotubes is regulated by calcium-dependent processes. Calcium ions appear to be necessary at the outer face of the membrane, and an additional internal calcium increase seems required to promote fusion of aligned myoblasts. It has been proposed that a calcium influx could take place prior to fusion and that this may be mediated by voltage-dependent calcium channels. Previously, we showed that two types of voltage-dependent calcium currents were expressed in multinucleated myotubes but not in rat myoblasts growing in primary culture before the withdrawal of the growth medium. We also showed that the previous formation of multinucleated synticia was not a prerequisite of developmental appearance of calcium currents, suggesting that the two events were time-correlated but not sequentially dependent. These features led us to investigate changes in internal calcium activity and the possible appearance of voltage-dependent calcium influx pathways just after the promotion of fusion by the change of culture medium. The results confirm that a rise in cytosolic calcium activity occurs slightly before fusion in confluent myoblasts and remained in newly formed myotubes. Reducing this elevation by internal calcium buffering lowered myoblast fusion and, reciprocally, blocking cell fusion prevented calcium increase. Treatment with the organic calcium channel blockers nifedipine (5 microM) and PN 200-110 (1 microM) did not alter cytosolic calcium changes nor cell fusion, and voltage-dependent calcium currents were never observed by the perforated patch-clamp technique in aligned fusion-competent myoblasts. Other voltage-operated mechanisms of calcium rise were not detected since depolarization with hyperpotassium solutions failed to elicit increases in intracellular calcium. On the contrary, acetylcholine was able to promote extracellular calcium-dependent calcium transients. Our results confirm the requirement of an increase in resting calcium during fusion, but do not support the hypothesis of an influx through voltage-dependent channels or other voltage-operated pathways. The elevation of internal calcium activity may result from other mechanisms, such as a cholinergic action for example.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Calcium Channels / metabolism*
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Ion Channel Gating
  • Muscle, Skeletal / cytology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Rats


  • Calcium Channels
  • Calcium