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Prog Biophys Mol Biol. 2003 May-Jul;82(1-3):255-66.

Mechano-electric feedback and arrhythmias.

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  • 1Institut für Pharmakologie und Toxikologie, Medizinische Fakultät Carl Gustav Carus der Technischen Universität Dresden, Fetscherstrasse 74, 01307, Dresden, Germany.


The mechanical state of the heart feeds back to modify cardiac rate and rhythm. Mechanical stretch of myocardial tissue causes immediate and chronic responses that lead to the common end point of arrhythmia. This review provides a brief summary of the author's personal choice of contributions that she considers have fostered our understanding of the role of mechano-electric feedback in arrhythmogenesis. Acute mechanical stretch reversibly depolarises the cell membrane and shortens the action potential duration. These electrophysiological changes are related to the activation of mechano-sensitive ion channels. Several different ion channels are involved in the sensing of stretch, among them K(+)-selective, Cl(-)-selective, non-selective, and ATP-sensitive K(+) channels. Sodium and Ca(2+) entering the cells via non-selective ion channels are thought to contribute to the genesis of stretch-induced arrhythmia. Mechano-sensitive channels have been cloned from non-vertebrate and vertebrate species. Chronic stress on the heart activates gene expression in cardiomyocytes and non-myocytes. The signal transduction involves atrial natriuretic peptides and growth factors that initiate remodelling processes leading to hypertrophy which in turn may contribute to the electrical instability of the heart by increasing the responsiveness of mechano-sensitive channels. Selective block of these channels could provide some new form of treatment of mechanically induced arrhythmias, although at present there are no drugs available with sufficient selectivity. Detailed understanding of how mechanical strain on myocardial cells is translated into channel activation will allow to identify new targets for putative antiarrhythmic drugs.

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