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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1996 Apr 15;779:451-63.

Evidence that reverse Na-Ca exchange can trigger SR calcium release.

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Nora Eccles Harrison Cardiovascular Research and Training Institute, University of Utah, Salt Lake City 84112, USA.


Several results suggest that the Na-Ca exchange can function as a trigger promoting SR Ca release and ensuing contractions. First, if the Ca current was the sole trigger for contraction we would expect the relationship between triggered contractions and voltage to be similar to the relationship between Ca current and contraction. When Na is present in the pipette this is not observed. Between -40 and +10 mV the relationships between contractions and voltage and current and voltage are similar. At potentials positive to 10 mV the Ca current declines as expected but contractions either decline much more slowly or continue to increase depending upon the concentration of intracellular Na. In addition, we have observed that contractions can be activated when Ca current is largely or completely blocked. Since these contractions are sensitive to the presence of ryanodine and thapsigargin they appear to be triggered by Na-Ca exchange. Also, contractions that are activated in the presence of nifedipine are sensitive to the Na-Ca exchange inhibitor XIP. Finally, rapid removal of extracellular Na apparently stimulates enough reverse exchange triggering of SR Ca release without affecting the SR content. It is clear that the shape of the shortening voltage relationship depends upon the concentration of dialyzing Na. This is likely to occur for two reasons. Either the shape of the shortening voltage relationship depends upon the extent to which Na-Ca exchange contributes a trigger for SR Ca release or alternatively the shape of the shortening voltage relationship depends upon SR Ca content. The latter is known to depend upon the Na concentration. In addition it is now established that the gain of SR Ca release is influenced by SR content. However, we studied triggered contractions in the absence of a Na gradient when the only available trigger is the Ca current. We measured triggered contractions over a range of voltages between -30 and +60 mV. Between each measurement we reestablished the Na gradient and activated a series of conditioning pulses to standardize the SR Ca content. Just before a test pulse we removed extracellular Na and activated either 3 or 6 pulses to produce two different SR Ca loads (in the absence of a Na gradient entering Ca cannot be extruded and therefore changes the SR Ca content). Regardless of the number of prepulses in the absence of a Na gradient the shortening voltage relationship was similar and bell shaped. From this we conclude that the shape of the relationship between shortening and voltage does not depend upon SR Ca content. Therefore, we conclude that the asymmetry in the shortening voltage relationship that depends upon intracellular Na is due to a contribution of reverse Na-Ca exchange. It is too early to say what the physiological significance (if any) of triggering by reverse exchange actually is. However, it does seem likely that it might provide a powerful inotropic mechanism. For example intracellular Na might be expected to change with heart rate and to be elevated at higher heart rates. Presumably this increased intracellular Na would tend to favor triggering by reverse exchange and would therefore enhance contractility at a time when it would be most required.

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