When a smooth muscle cell is depolarized, it causes opening of the voltage-gated, or L-type, calcium channels. Depolarization may be brought about by stretching of the cell, agonist-binding its G protein-coupled receptor (GPCR), or autonomic nervous system stimulation. Opening of the L-type calcium channel causes influx of extracellular Ca2+, which then binds calmodulin. The activated calmodulin molecule activates myosin light-chain kinase (MLCK), which phosphorylates the myosin in thick filaments. Phosphorylated myosin is able to form crossbridges with actin thin filaments, and the smooth muscle fiber (i.e., cell) contracts via the sliding filament mechanism. (See reference for an illustration of the signaling cascade involving L-type calcium channels in smooth muscle).
L-type calcium channels are also enriched in the t-tubules of striated muscle cells, i.e., skeletal and cardiac myofibers. When these cells are depolarized, the L-type calcium channels open as in smooth muscle. In skeletal muscle, the actual opening of the channel, which is mechanically gated to a calcium-release channel (a.k.a. ryanodine receptor, or RYR) in the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR), causes opening of the RYR. In cardiac muscle, opening of the L-type calcium channel permits influx of calcium into the cell. The calcium binds to the calcium release channels (RYRs) in the SR, opening them; this phenomenon is called "calcium-induced calcium release", or CICR. However the RYRs are opened, either through mechanical-gating or CICR, Ca2+ is released from the SR and is able to bind to troponin C on the actin filaments. The muscles then contract through the sliding filament mechanism, causing shortening of sarcomeres and muscle contraction.
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