Send to

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Am J Pathol. 1991 Oct;139(4):801-21.

Altered patterns of gap junction distribution in ischemic heart disease. An immunohistochemical study of human myocardium using laser scanning confocal microscopy.

Author information

Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, United Kingdom.


Arrhythmias are a common and potentially life-threatening complication of myocardial ischemia and infarction in humans. The structural pathways for the rapid intercellular conduction of the electrical impulse that stimulates coordinated contraction in the myocardium are formed by the gap junctions situated at intercalated disks. By raising antibodies to cardiac gap-junctional protein, and using these antibodies in an immunohistochemical procedure in combination with the technique of laser scanning confocal microscopy, we have succeeded in localizing gap junctions, with a clarity not previously possible, through thick volumes of human myocardial tissue. To explore the structural basis for ischemia and infarction-related arrhythmogenesis, antibody labeling and laser scanning confocal microscopy were applied to study the organization, distribution, and other characteristics of gap junctions in the explanted hearts of patients undergoing cardiac transplantation for advanced ischemic heart disease. In areas of myocardium free from histologically detectable structural damage, there was no significant difference in the size of distribution of labeled gap junctions, or in their number per intercalated disk, between left ventricular tissue (in which functional impairment was severe) and right ventricular tissue (in which functional impairment was minimal). However, in myocytes at the border of healed infarcts--zones to which the slow conduction responsible for reentry arrhythmias has been localized--the organization of gap junctions was markedly disordered; instead of being aggregated into discrete intercalated disks, gap-junctional immunostaining was spread extensively over myocyte surfaces. Some infarct zones were bridged by continuous strands of myocytes, coupled to one another by gap junctions, thereby linking healthy myocardium on either side. At their thinnest, these bridges were in some instances no wider than a single attenuated myocyte. The conclusions are 1) a widespread, generalized derangement of gap junction organization does not appear to underlie functional impairment in the ischemic heart, 2) a disorderly arrangement typifies gap junctions in myocytes of the infarct border zone, and this may contribute to alterations in conduction that are capable of precipitating reentry arrhythmias, and 3) delicate chains of myocytes traverse some healed infarcts, apparently forming electrically coupled bridges across what would otherwise constitute blocked zones. The weakest link in this chain can be a single, degenerating myocyte; avoidance of arrhythmia may therefore depend on the continued survival of this single cell.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for PubMed Central
    Loading ...
    Support Center