Fixed and diffusible calcium (Ca) buffers shape the spatial and temporal distribution of free Ca following Ca entry through voltage-gated ion channels. This modeling study explores intracellular Ca levels achieved near the membrane and in deeper locations following typical Ca currents obtained with patch clamp experiments. Ca ion diffusion sets an upper limit on the maximal average Ca concentration achieved near the membrane. Fixed buffers restrict Ca elevation spatially to the outermost areas of the cell and slow Ca equilibration. Fixed buffer bound with Ca near the membrane can act as Ca source after termination of Ca influx. The relative contribution of fixed versus diffusible buffers to shaping the Ca transient is determined to a large extent by the binding rate of each buffer, with diffusible buffer dominating at equal binding rates. In the presence of fixed buffers, diffusible buffers speed Ca equilibration throughout the cell. The concentration profile of Ca-bound diffusible buffer differs from the concentration profile of free Ca, reflecting theoretical limits on the temporal resolution which can be achieved with commonly used diffusible Ca indicators. A Ca indicator which is fixed to an intracellular component might more accurately report local Ca concentrations.
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