The Ca indicator tetramethylmurexide was introduced into cut fibers, mounted in a double-Vaseline-gap chamber, by diffusion from the endpool solutions. The indicator diffused rapidly to the central region of a fiber where optical recording was done and, if removed, diffused away equally fast. The time course of concentration suggests that, on average, a fraction 0.27 of indicator was reversibly bound to myoplasmic constituents and the free diffusion constant was 1.75 × 10-6 cm2/s at 18°C. The shape of the resting absorbance spectrum suggests that a fraction 0.11-0.15 of tetramethylmurexide inside a fiber was complexed with Ca. After action potential stimulation, there was a rapid transient change in indicator absorbance followed by a maintained change of opposite sign. The wavelength dependence of both changes matched a cuvette Ca-difference spectrum. The amplitude of the early peak varied linearly with indicator concentration and corresponded to an average rise in free [Ca] of 17 µM. These rather diverse findings can be explained if the sarcoplasmic reticulum membranes are permeable to Ca-free indicator. Both Ca-free and Ca-complexed indicator inside the sarcoplasmic reticulum would appear to be bound by diffusion analysis and the Ca-complexed form would be detected by the resting absorbance spectrum. The transient change in indicator absorbance would be produced by myoplasmic Ca reacting with indicator molecules that freely diffuse in myoplasmic solution. The maintained signal, which reports Ca dissociating from indicator complexed at rest, would come from changes within the sarcoplasmic reticulum. A method, based on these ideas, is described for separating the two components of the tetramethylmurexide signal. The estimated myoplasmic free [Ca] transient has an average peak value of 26 µM at 18°C. Its time course is similar to, but possibly faster than, that recorded with antipyrylazo III (Mayliej, M. Irving, N. L. Sizto, and W. K. Chandler. 1987. Journal of General Physiology. 89:83-143).
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