Growth hormone (GH) secretion by the somatotrope is under dual regulation by the hypothalamic peptides, somatostatin (SS) and GH-releasing hormone (GHRH). Cytosolic free calcium concentration and cumulative GH release were measured simultaneously in anterior pituitary cells from adult male rats. This was made possible using a combination of digital imaging video microscopy with the fluorescent calcium indicator Fura-2 and the reverse haemolytic plaque assay (RHPA) to identify the cell type and measure hormone secretion from the cells under study. This technique allows calcium measurements to be made at very short time intervals (less than 150 ms) in single cells. Spontaneous calcium transients were demonstrated in 85% of GH plaque-forming cells. These occurred at a frequency of 2–13 min-1 and had an amplitude of 50–500 nmoll-1. The somatotropes with the largest calcium fluctuations produced the largest plaques; thus, the calcium transients appeared to correlate with hormone release. Since the somatotrope alone shows these fluctuations, the mean intracellular calcium concentration is 238 +/− 18 nmoll-1 in somatotropes and 113 +/− 8 nmoll-1 in non-somatotropes. Upon exposure to SS (1 nmoll-1) intracellular calcium fell from 200–250 nmoll-1 to 50–100 nmoll-1 with an apparent reduction in oscillations. Withdrawal of SS increased the intracellular calcium level. GHRH increased intracellular calcium but 10 nmoll-1 GHRH given simultaneously with 1 nmoll-1 SS reduced intracellular calcium to that level observed during SS alone. Thus, the SS effect on intracellular calcium predominates. The effects of SS can be mimicked by removal of extracellular calcium, or by the addition of CoCl2 (2 nmoll-1) or by verapamil (100 mumoll-1), two agents which block calcium channels. The hormone secretion index (indicated by the area of the plaque formed in RHPA) enables us to demonstrate that GHRH in this system increases GH secretion, and SS inhibits it. In combination, GHRH and SS oppose one another. Spontaneous calcium oscillations are characteristic for normal somatotropes. These oscillations are related to spontaneous hormone secretion and due to influx of calcium through ion channels in the membrane. Intracellular signalling information may be encoded in both frequency and amplitude of calcium oscillations. The actions of GHRH and SS on regulation of GH secretion are proposed to be mediated, at least in part, by regulation of intracellular cytosolic free calcium. This modulation is dependent on extracellular calcium concentrations. We are now investigating the molecular mechanisms involved in this process.

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