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This article has been peer reviewed. It was published in: Environmental health perspectives

1990 Mar;84:107-11.

The published version is available at PMID: 2190804. Copyright © National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.


Calcium ions have been increasingly implicated as a mediator of the mechanisms generating lethal cell injury under a variety of pathologic circumstances. An overview of the various roles suggested for such alterations in cellular calcium homeostasis is presented. The central role of plasma membrane damage in the genesis of irreversible cell injury is used to divide the postulated roles for calcium ions into two major mechanisms. On the one hand, calcium ions have been proposed as mediators of the functional consequences of plasma membrane injury. An influx of extracellular calcium ions across a damaged permeability barrier and down a steep concentration gradient may convert potentially reversible injury into irreversible injury. On the other hand, alterations in intracellular calcium homeostasis are postulated to participate in the mechanisms generating potentially lethal plasma membrane injury. The release of calcium stores sequestered within intracellular organelles raises the cytosolic concentration of free calcium, a process that may activate, in turn, a number of membrane-disruptive processes. The data supporting these two distinct actions of calcium are reviewed and discussed.

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