Calcium to calcium exchange between intracellular and extracellular pools has been imaged directly in individual cells using stable 44Ca (98.78% enrichment) in the nutrient medium and an isotopic imaging technique, ion microscopy. Observations were made by imaging mass 40 to determine the native intracellular calcium (40Ca), and mass 44 to localize the 44Ca from the extracellular medium that exchanged with cellular calcium. LLC-PK1 porcine kidney epithelial cells were exposed to the nutrient medium with 1.87 mM stable 44Ca for 0, 1, 2, 5, 8, 20, 60 and 90 min, and cryogenically prepared prior to ion microscopic analysis. The cell nucleus, the Golgi region and the remaining cell cytoplasm could be spatially resolved to within about 0.5 microns using the ion microscope. On the basis of the kinetics of 40Ca to 44Ca exchange it was observed that all three compartments had a rapidly exchanging pool of calcium, which took about 2 min to exchange. A moderately rapidly exchanging pool of calcium was identified between 2 and 20 min of calcium exchange. The cells had exchanged about 50% of their total internal calcium with the external calcium in less than 20 min. The remaining 50% of the cellular calcium could be classified as a slowly exchanging pool. Isotopic images of 39K and 23Na were recorded along with 40Ca and 44Ca images to assess the health status of the cell. Isotopic imaging has the unique ability to distinguish intracellular calcium from the extracellular calcium that enters cells and has enormous potential for studies of calcium transport under physiological and pathological conditions.

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