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Med Sci (Paris). 2007 Jun-Jul;23(6-7):657-62.

[Sinus rhythm: mechanisms and function].

[Article in French]

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Institut de recherches internationales Servier, 6, place des Pléiades, 92415 Courbevoie, France.


The normal cardiac rhythm originates in a specialized region of the heart, the sinus node that is part of the nodal tissue. The rhythmic, impulse initiation of sinus node pacemaker cells results from a spontaneous diastolic depolarization that is initiated immediately after repolarization of the preceding actions potential. This slow diastolic depolarisation is typical of automatic cells and essential to their function. Several currents are involved in this diastolic depolarisation: a hyperpolarization activated inward current, termed "pacemaker" I(f) current, two Ca2+ currents (a L type and a T type), a delayed K+ current and a Na/Ca exchange current. The frequency of the automatic discharge is the main determinant of heart rate. However the sinus node activity is regulated by adrenergic and cholinergic neurotransmitters. Acetylcholine provokes the hyperpolarization of pacemaker cells and decreases the speed of the spontaneous diastolic depolarisation, thus slowing the sinus rate. Catecholamines lead to sinus tachycardia by increasing the diastolic depolarisation speed. In normal conditions, the observed resting heart rate is lower than the intrinsic frequency of the sinus node due to a "predominance" of the vagal tone. Neural regulation of the heart rate aims at meeting the metabolic needs of the tissues through a varying blood flow. Differences between diurnal and nocturnal mean heart rates are accounted for by neural influences. During the night, the increased vagal tone results in decreased heart rate. The exercise-induced tachycardia results from the sympathetic stimulation. It allows more blood to reach skeletal muscles, and as a consequence an increased supply of oxygen and nutrients. Compared to the variety of clinical arrhythmias, sinus rhythm is the basis for optimal exercise capacity and quality of life.

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