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PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43587. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043587. Epub 2012 Aug 27.

Mechanisms and determinants of ultralong action potential duration and slow rate-dependence in cardiac myocytes.

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  • 1Department of Medicine (Cardiology), David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.


In normal cardiac myocytes, the action potential duration (APD) is several hundred milliseconds. However, experimental studies showed that under certain conditions, APD could be excessively long (or ultralong), up to several seconds. Unlike the normal APD, the ultralong APD increases sensitively with pacing cycle length even when the pacing rate is very slow, exhibiting a sensitive slow rate-dependence. In addition, these long action potentials may or may not exhibit early afterdepolarizations (EADs). Although these phenomena are well known, the underlying mechanisms and ionic determinants remain incompletely understood. In this study, computer simulations were performed with a simplified action potential model. Modifications to the L-type calcium current (I(Ca,L)) kinetics and the activation time constant of the delayed rectifier K current were used to investigate their effects on APD. We show that: 1) the ultralong APD and its sensitive slow rate-dependence are determined by the steady-state window and pedestal I(Ca,L) currents and the activation speed and the recovery of the delayed rectifier K current; 2) whether an ultralong action potential exhibits EADs or not depends on the kinetics of I(Ca,L); 3) increasing inward currents elevates the plateau voltage, which in general prolongs APD, however, this can also shorten APD when the APD is already ultralong under certain conditions; and 4) APD alternans occurs at slow pacing rates due to the sensitive slow rate-dependence and the ionic determinants are different from the ones causing APD alternans at fast heart rates.

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