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J Gen Physiol. 2008 Oct;132(4):407-19. doi: 10.1085/jgp.200809961. Epub 2008 Sep 15.

Mathematical model of mouse embryonic cardiomyocyte excitation-contraction coupling.

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  • 1Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Physiology and Biocenter Oulu, University of Oulu, 90014 Oulu, Finland.


Excitation-contraction (E-C) coupling is the mechanism that connects the electrical excitation with cardiomyocyte contraction. Embryonic cardiomyocytes are not only capable of generating action potential (AP)-induced Ca(2+) signals and contractions (E-C coupling), but they also can induce spontaneous pacemaking activity. The spontaneous activity originates from spontaneous Ca(2+) releases from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR), which trigger APs via the Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchanger (NCX). In the AP-driven mode, an external stimulus triggers an AP and activates voltage-activated Ca(2+) intrusion to the cell. These complex and unique features of the embryonic cardiomyocyte pacemaking and E-C coupling have never been assessed with mathematical modeling. Here, we suggest a novel mathematical model explaining how both of these mechanisms can coexist in the same embryonic cardiomyocytes. In addition to experimentally characterized ion currents, the model includes novel heterogeneous cytosolic Ca(2+) dynamics and oscillatory SR Ca(2+) handling. The model reproduces faithfully the experimentally observed fundamental features of both E-C coupling and pacemaking. We further validate our model by simulating the effect of genetic modifications on the hyperpolarization-activated current, NCX, and the SR Ca(2+) buffer protein calreticulin. In these simulations, the model produces a similar functional alteration to that observed previously in the genetically engineered mice, and thus provides mechanistic explanations for the cardiac phenotypes of these animals. In general, this study presents the first model explaining the underlying cellular mechanism for the origin and the regulation of the heartbeat in early embryonic cardiomyocytes.

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