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Physiol Rev. 2003 Oct;83(4):1269-324.

Na+-K+ pump regulation and skeletal muscle contractility.

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  • 1Department of Physiology, University of Aarhus, Arhus, Denmark.


In skeletal muscle, excitation may cause loss of K+, increased extracellular K+ ([K+]o), intracellular Na+ ([Na+]i), and depolarization. Since these events interfere with excitability, the processes of excitation can be self-limiting. During work, therefore, the impending loss of excitability has to be counterbalanced by prompt restoration of Na+-K+ gradients. Since this is the major function of the Na+-K+ pumps, it is crucial that their activity and capacity are adequate. This is achieved in two ways: 1) by acute activation of the Na+-K+ pumps and 2) by long-term regulation of Na+-K+ pump content or capacity. 1) Depending on frequency of stimulation, excitation may activate up to all of the Na+-K+ pumps available within 10 s, causing up to 22-fold increase in Na+ efflux. Activation of the Na+-K+ pumps by hormones is slower and less pronounced. When muscles are inhibited by high [K+]o or low [Na+]o, acute hormone- or excitation-induced activation of the Na+-K+ pumps can restore excitability and contractile force in 10-20 min. Conversely, inhibition of the Na+-K+ pumps by ouabain leads to progressive loss of contractility and endurance. 2) Na+-K+ pump content is upregulated by training, thyroid hormones, insulin, glucocorticoids, and K+ overload. Downregulation is seen during immobilization, K+ deficiency, hypoxia, heart failure, hypothyroidism, starvation, diabetes, alcoholism, myotonic dystrophy, and McArdle disease. Reduced Na+-K+ pump content leads to loss of contractility and endurance, possibly contributing to the fatigue associated with several of these conditions. Increasing excitation-induced Na+ influx by augmenting the open-time or the content of Na+ channels reduces contractile endurance. Excitability and contractility depend on the ratio between passive Na+-K+ leaks and Na+-K+ pump activity, the passive leaks often playing a dominant role. The Na+-K+ pump is a central target for regulation of Na+-K+ distribution and excitability, essential for second-to-second ongoing maintenance of excitability during work.

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