Friday, March 6, 2015

A Mathematical Model of Agonist-Induced Propagation of Calcium Waves in Astrocytes

When I was working at the National Institutes of Health in the mid-1990s, I spent most of my time studying transcranial magnetic stimulation and theoretical cardiac electrophysiology. But also I collaborated with James Russell to study calcium waves in astrocytes (a type of glial cell in the brain), and we published a paper in the journal Cell Calcium describing a Mathematical Model of Agonist-Induced Propagation of Calcium Waves in Astrocytes (Volume 17, Pages 53-64, 1995). The introduction is reproduced below (with citations removed):
“Recent experiments have clearly shown that astroglia in brain participate in long distance signaling together with neurons. Such signalling in astrocytes is supported by intracellular calcium oscillations induced by neurotransmitters that are propagated as waves through the cytoplasm of individual cells and through astrocyte networks. These calcium oscillations generally are triggered by activation of metabotropic receptors which are coupled to inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) generation and intracellular calcium release through IP3-gated calcium channels on the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) membrane. Yagodin et al. have shown that, in astrocytes, wave propagation is saltatory, with discrete loci of nonlinear wave amplification separated by regions through which passive diffusion of calcium occurs. These wave amplification loci appear to be intracellular specializations that remain invariant and support a qualitatively characteristic response pattern in any given cell. The loci may each have different intrinsic oscillatory frequencies, resulting in complex spatio-temporal dynamics, with wave collisions and annihilations.

Several mathematical models have been presented that describe the temporal characteristics of agonist-induced calcium oscillations in different types of cells. A few of these models address the spatial characteristics of wave propagation, but none have addressed the complex wave dynamics observed in different types of cells including astrocytes. The purpose of this paper is to extend a previously developed model of calcium oscillations so that it includes spatial diffusion of calcium in a cell with discrete active loci of wave amplification. This model is then used to analyze experimental data and to gain insight into the mechanism of wave collisions and annihilations.”
As you might expect, my contribution to this paper was developing the mathematical model, while Russell and his team provided the experimental data as well as the biological knowledge and insight. The model was based on a paper by Li and Rinzel (Equations for InsP3 Receptor-Mediated [Ca2+]i Oscillations Derived from a Detailed Kinetic Model: A Hodgkin-Huxley Like Formalism, Journal of Theoretical Biology, Volume 166, Pages 461-473, 1994). At that time, John Rinzel was at NIH, heading the Mathematical Research Branch of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. John, now at the Center for Neural Science at New York University, has contributed much to theoretical biology, but I remember him best for his work on bursting of pancreatic beta cells. He is this year’s winner of the Society of Mathematical Biology’s Arthur T. Winfree Prizefor his elegant work on the analysis of dynamical behavior in models of neural activity and the contributions that work has made in the neurobiological community to the understanding of a host of phenomena (including simple excitability as well as bursting) in single neurons, small populations of neurons, and other excitable cells.”

Russell remains at NIH with the Microscopy and Imaging Core of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development. He leads a multi-user research facility providing training and instrumentation for high resolution microscopy and image processing.

As so often happens, an echo of my work on calcium wave modeling with Russell appears in the 4th edition of Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology. Homework Problem 24 in Chapter 4 contains a simplified model of calcium waves. This system is a classic “reaction-diffusion” system: calcium diffuses down the cell, triggering calcium-induced calcium release, which produces more diffusion, triggering more calcium release, resulting in positive feedback and a calcium wave. The process is analogous to action potential propagation along a nerve.

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