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Bull Math Biol. 2014 Feb;76(2):431-54. doi: 10.1007/s11538-013-9927-1. Epub 2013 Dec 13.

Modelling the effect of gap junctions on tissue-level cardiac electrophysiology.

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  • 1University of Oxford, Oxford, UK,


When modelling tissue-level cardiac electrophysiology, a continuum approximation to the discrete cell-level equations, known as the bidomain equations, is often used to maintain computational tractability. Analysing the derivation of the bidomain equations allows us to investigate how microstructure, in particular gap junctions that electrically connect cells, affect tissue-level conductivity properties. Using a one-dimensional cable model, we derive a modified form of the bidomain equations that take gap junctions into account, and compare results of simulations using both the discrete and continuum models, finding that the underlying conduction velocity of the action potential ceases to match up between models when gap junctions are introduced at physiologically realistic coupling levels. We show that this effect is magnified by: (i) modelling gap junctions with reduced conductivity; (ii) increasing the conductance of the fast sodium channel; and (iii) an increase in myocyte length. From this, we conclude that the conduction velocity arising from the bidomain equations may not be an accurate representation of the underlying discrete system. In particular, the bidomain equations are less likely to be valid when modelling certain diseased states whose symptoms include a reduction in gap junction coupling or an increase in myocyte length.

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