On the activation mechanism of store-operated calcium channels.
The development of the patch clamp technique has revolutionised our understanding of the life sciences. One area in which it has made an enormous contribution is cellular signalling. In many cell types, calcium influx across the plasma membrane is essential for the regulation of a wide range of critical physiological responses including secretion, gene transcription and cell growth. For many years the calcium influx pathways in non-excitable cells remained unknown, despite their importance in physiological and pathophysiological states. Very careful and insightful work by James Putney led to the formulation of the capacitative calcium entry (store-operated calcium influx) model, in which the process of emptying intracellular calcium stores resulted in the activation of calcium entry channels. Unequivocal evidence for this revolutionary model was provided by patch clamp studies carried out by Markus Hoth and Reinhold Penner, who demonstrated that store depletion activated a novel class of calcium channel called the CRAC channel. This review provides a historical perspective on the development of store-operated calcium influx and how patch clamping resolved a long-standing controversy in cell physiology. The review also discusses current ideas relating to how store emptying opens channels in the plasma membrane.