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Mechanisms By Which Mitochondria Transport Calcium

T. E. Gunter, D. R. Pfeiffer

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It has been firmly established that the rapid uptake of Ca2+ by mitochondria from a wide range of sources is mediated by a uniporter which permits transport of the ion down its electrochemical gradient. Several mechanisms of Ca2+ efflux from mitochondria have also been extensively discussed in the literature. Energized mitochondria must expend a significant amount of energy to transport Ca2+ against its electrochemical gradient from the matrix space to the external space. Two separate mechanisms have been found to mediate this outward transport: a Ca2+/nNa+ exchanger and a Na(+)-independent efflux mechanism. These efflux mechanisms are considered from the perspective of available energy. In addition, a reversible Ca2(+)-induced increase in inner membrane permeability can also occur. The induction of this permeability transition is characterized by swelling of the mitochondria, leakiness to small ions such as K+, Mg2+, and Ca2+, and loss of the mitochondrial membrane potential. It has been suggested that the permeability transition and its reversal may also function as a mitochondrial Ca2+ efflux mechanism under some conditions. The characteristics of each of these mechanisms are discussed, as well as their possible physiological functions.