Background/aims: Voltage-operated calcium channels are essential for the regulation of vascular tone and are potential targets for vasodilating agents. They regulate calcium entry and thereby cell contraction in vascular cell types. Hepatic stellate cells in the activated phenotype have contractile properties and could participate in the regulation of sinusoidal blood flow. Thus, this study was aimed at investigating the presence of voltage-operated calcium channels in human hepatic stellate cells activated in culture and the effects of their stimulation on intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) and cell contractility.
Methods: Binding studies using [3H]-nitrendipine were performed to demonstrate the presence of voltage-operated calcium channels. Voltage-operated calcium channels were stimulated by causing cell membrane depolarization either by electrical field stimulation or extracellular high potassium. [Ca2+]i and cell contraction were measured in individual cells loaded with fura-2 using a morphometric method with an epifluorescence microscope coupled to a charge-coupled device-imaging system.
Results: Binding studies demonstrated the existence of voltage-operated calcium channels in human activated hepatic stellate cells (7.1+/-1.4x10(4) sites/cell with a Kd of 2.1+/-0.1 nM). Both electrical field stimulation and potassium chloride-induced cell depolarization resulted in a marked and prolonged increase in [Ca2+]i followed by intense cell contraction. The degree of cell contraction correlated with the intensity of calcium peaks. Removal of extracellular calcium or preincubation of cells with nitrendipine, a specific antagonist of voltage-operated calcium channels, completely blocked the effects on [Ca2+]i and cell contraction, whereas preincubation of cells with BayK-8644, a specific agonist of voltage-operated calcium channels, increased calcium peaks and contraction.
Conclusion: Activated human hepatic stellate cells have a large number of voltage-operated calcium channels, the activation of which is associated with an increase in [Ca2+]i followed by marked cell contraction. Voltage-operated calcium channels probably play an important role in the regulation of activated hepatic stellate cells contractility.