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Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2012 Aug 1;5(4):821-30. doi: 10.1161/CIRCEP.111.969329. Epub 2012 Jun 7.

Size and ionic currents of unexcitable cells coupled to cardiomyocytes distinctly modulate cardiac action potential shape and pacemaking activity in micropatterned cell pairs.

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  • 1Department of Biomedical Engineering, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.



Cardiac cell therapies can yield electric coupling of unexcitable donor cells to host cardiomyocytes with functional consequences that remain unexplored.


We micropatterned cell pairs consisting of a neonatal rat ventricular myocyte (NRVM) coupled to an engineered human embryonic kidney 293 (HEK293) cell expressing either connexin-43 (Cx43 HEK) or inward rectifier potassium channel 2.1 (Kir2.1) and Cx43 (Kir2.1+Cx43 HEK). The NRVM-HEK contact length was fixed yielding a coupling strength of 68.9±9.7 nS, whereas HEK size was systematically varied. With increase in Cx43 HEK size, NRVM maximal diastolic potential was reduced from -71.7±0.6 mV in single NRVMs to -35.1±1.3 mV in pairs with an HEK:NRVM cell surface area ratio of 1.7±0.1, whereas the action potential upstroke ([dV(m)/dt](max)) and duration decreased to 1.6±0.7% and increased to 177±32% in single NRVM values, respectively (n=21 cell pairs). Pacemaking occurred in all NRVM-Cx43 HEK pairs with cell surface area ratios of 1.1 to 1.9. In contrast, NRVMs, coupled with Kir2.1+Cx43 HEKs of increasing size, had similar maximal diastolic potentials, exhibited no spontaneous activity, and showed a gradual decrease in action potential duration (n=23). Furthermore, coupling single NRVMs to a dynamic clamp model of HEK cell ionic current reproduced the cardiac maximal diastolic potentials and pacemaking rates recorded in cell pairs, whereas reproducing changes in (dV(m)/dt)(max) and action potential duration required coupling to an HEK model that also included cell membrane capacitance.


Size and ionic currents of unexcitable cells electrically coupled to cardiomyocytes distinctly affect cardiac action potential shape and initiation with important implications for the safety of cardiac cell and gene therapies.

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