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Biophys J. 2009 Oct 21;97(8):2179-90. doi: 10.1016/j.bpj.2009.07.054.

Electrotonic coupling between human atrial myocytes and fibroblasts alters myocyte excitability and repolarization.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.


Atrial fibrosis has been implicated in the development and maintenance of atrial arrhythmias, and is characterized by expansion of the extracellular matrix and an increased number of fibroblasts (Fbs). Electrotonic coupling between atrial myocytes and Fbs may contribute to the formation of an arrhythmogenic substrate. However, the role of these cell-cell interactions in the function of both normal and diseased atria remains poorly understood. The goal of this study was to gain mechanistic insight into the role of electrotonic Fb-myocyte coupling on myocyte excitability and repolarization. To represent the system, a human atrial myocyte (hAM) coupled to a variable number of Fbs, we employed a new ionic model of the hAM, and a variety of membrane representations for atrial Fbs. Simulations elucidated the effects of altering the intercellular coupling conductance, electrophysiological Fb properties, and stimulation rate on the myocyte action potential. The results demonstrate that the myocyte resting potential and action potential waveform are modulated strongly by the properties and number of coupled Fbs, the degree of coupling, and the pacing frequency. Our model provides mechanistic insight into the consequences of heterologous cell coupling on hAM electrophysiology, and can be extended to evaluate these implications at both tissue and organ levels.

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