Ca2+ channels allow passage of Ca2+ ions into the cytoplasm through a selective pore which is opened in response to depolarization of the cell membrane (for reviews see Hagiwara & Byerly, 1981, 1983; Tsien, 1983; Reuter, 1983). The Ca2+ flux creates a net inward, depolarizing current and the resulting accumulation of Ca2+ in the cytoplasm can act as a chemical trigger for secretion of hormones and neurotransmitters, contraction of muscle and a variety of other Ca2+-sensitive events. Thus, upon sensing membrane potential changes, Ca2+ channels simultaneously generate an electrical signal while directly creating an intracellular chemical messenger. This dual ability is unique among the family of ion channels and allows the Ca2+ channel to play a variety of roles in excitation-secretion and excitation-contraction coupling. It has now become clear that versatility of function is reflected by diversity of the types of Ca2+ channels on the membrane of individual cells. This article describes the nature of data which have demonstrated multiple channel types, reviews the literature suggesting that many cells have several kinds of Ca2+ channels, and discusses newer data regarding a neurotoxin that distinguishes among different Ca2+ channels.

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