Roles of Na+, Ca2+, and K+ channels in the generation of repetitive firing and rhythmic bursting in adrenal chromaffin cells

Christopher J. Lingle, Pedro L. Martinez-Espinosa, Laura Guarina, Emilio Carbone

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Adrenal chromaffin cells (CCs) are the main source of circulating catecholamines (CAs) that regulate the body response to stress. Release of CAs is controlled neurogenically by the activity of preganglionic sympathetic neurons through trains of action potentials (APs). APs in CCs are generated by robust depolarization following the activation of nicotinic and muscarinic receptors that are highly expressed in CCs. Bovine, rat, mouse, and human CCs also express a composite array of Na+, K+, and Ca2+ channels that regulate the resting potential, shape the APs, and set the frequency of AP trains. AP trains of increasing frequency induce enhanced release of CAs. If the primary role of CCs is simply to relay preganglionic nerve commands to CA secretion, why should they express such a diverse set of ion channels? An answer to this comes from recent observations that, like in neurons, CCs undergo complex firing patterns of APs suggesting the existence of an intrinsic CC excitability (non-neurogenically controlled). Recent work has shown that CCs undergo occasional or persistent burst firing elicited by altered physiological conditions or deletion of pore-regulating auxiliary subunits. In this review, we aim to give a rationale to the role of the many ion channel types regulating CC excitability. We will first describe their functional properties and then analyze how they contribute to pacemaking, AP shape, and burst waveforms. We will also furnish clear indications on missing ion conductances that may be involved in pacemaking and highlight the contribution of the crucial channels involved in burst firing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)39-52
Number of pages14
JournalPflugers Archiv European Journal of Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2018


  • Action potential
  • Burst firing
  • Catecholamine release
  • Chromaffin cell excitability
  • Potassium and calcium channels
  • Sodium channels


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