The depletion of intracellular Ca2+ stores triggers the opening of Ca2+ release-activated Ca2+ (CRAC) channels in the plasma membrane of T lymphocytes. We have investigated the additional role of extracellular Ca2+ (Ca02+) in promoting CRAC channel activation in Jurkat leukemic T cells. Ca2+ stores were depleted with 1 microM thapsigargin in the nominal absence of Ca02+ with 12 mM EGTA or BAPTA in the recording pipette. Subsequent application of Ca02+ caused ICRAC to appear in two phases. The initial phase was complete within 1 s and reflects channels that were open in the absence of Ca02+. The second phase consisted of a severalfold exponential increase in current amplitude with a time constant of 5-10 s; we call this increase Ca(2+)-dependent potentiation, or CDP. The shape of the current-voltage relation and the inferred single-channel current amplitude are unchanged during CDP, indicating that CDP reflects an alteration in channel gating rather than permeation. The extent of CDP is modulated by voltage, increasing from approximately 50% at +50 mV to approximately 350% at -75 mV in the presence of 2 mM Ca02+. The voltage dependence of CDP also causes ICRAC to increase slowly during prolonged hyperpolarizations in the constant presence of Ca02+. CDP is not affected by exogenous intracellular Ca2+ buffers, and Ni2+, a CRAC channel blocker, can cause potentiation. Thus, the underlying Ca2+ binding site is not intracellular. Ba2+ has little or no ability to potentiate CRAC channels. These results demonstrate that the store-depletion signal by itself triggers only a small fraction of capacitative Ca2+ entry and establish Ca2+ as a potent cofactor in this process. CDP confers a previously unrecognized voltage dependence and slow time dependence on CRAC channel activation that may contribute to the dynamic behavior of ICRAC.

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