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Exp Physiol. 1994 Nov;79(6):943-56.

Mechanosensitive fibroblasts in the sino-atrial node region of rat heart: interaction with cardiomyocytes and possible role.

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  • 1University Laboratory of Physiology, Oxford.


The positive chronotropic response of the heart to stretch of the right atrium is one of the major mechanisms adjusting the heart rate to variations in venous return on a beat-by-beat basis. The precise pathway of this mechano-electric feedback and its cellular basis are uncertain. In this study, a possible contribution of mechanosensitive fibroblasts, abundant in the sino-atrial node region, was investigated using a mathematical model of the electrical interaction of a mechanosensitive fibroblast and a sino-atrial pacemaker cell. Electrophysiological evidence for a bio-electrical interaction of mechanosensitive fibroblasts with surrounding cardiomyocytes has been studied in (i) the isolated spontaneously beating atrium of rat hearts, and (ii) cell cultures of the neonatal rat heart. These investigations were performed using (i) double-barrelled floating microelectrodes for intracellular potential registrations, and (ii) the double whole cell patch-clamp technique. It was shown that cardiac fibroblasts and surrounding cardiomyocytes can be either electrically well isolated from each other, or coupled both capacitively and electrotonically. The electrophysiological data obtained were incorporated into the OXSOFT HEART program. Assuming that equivalent coupling may occur between mechanosensitive fibroblasts and sino-atrial pacemaker cells, a heterologous cell pair consisting of one fibroblast and one sino-atrial node myocyte connected by ten to thirty single gap junctional channels with a conductance of 30 pS was modelled. The model of the electrotonic interaction of these cells showed that stretch of the fibroblast during atrial diastole, simulating increased atrial wall tension during atrial filling, can raise the spontaneous depolarization rate of the pacemaker cell in a stretch-dependent manner by up to 24%. These results show that cardiac mechanosensitive fibroblasts could form a cellular basis for the positive chronotropic response of the heart to stretch of the right atrium.

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