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J Gen Physiol. 2008 Oct;132(4):397-405. doi: 10.1085/jgp.200809960. Epub 2008 Sep 15.

Excitation-contraction coupling of the mouse embryonic cardiomyocyte.

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Institute of Biomedicine, Department of Physiology and Biocenter Oulu, University of Oulu, 90014 Oulu, Finland.


In the mammalian embryo, the primitive tubular heart starts beating during the first trimester of gestation. These early heartbeats originate from calcium-induced contractions of the developing heart muscle cells. To explain the initiation of this activity, two ideas have been presented. One hypothesis supports the role of spontaneously activated voltage-gated calcium channels, whereas the other emphasizes the role of Ca(2+) release from intracellular stores initiating spontaneous intracellular calcium oscillations. We show with experiments that both of these mechanisms coexist and operate in mouse cardiomyocytes during embryonic days 9-11. Further, we characterize how inositol-3-phosphate receptors regulate the frequency of the sarcoplasmic reticulum calcium oscillations and thus the heartbeats. This study provides a novel view of the regulation of embryonic cardiomyocyte activity, explaining the functional versatility of developing cardiomyocytes and the origin and regulation of the embryonic heartbeat.

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