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Concept: Sinoatrial node


In normal cardiac myocytes, the action potential duration (APD) is several hundred milliseconds. However, experimental studies showed that under certain conditions, APD could be excessively long (or ultralong), up to several seconds. Unlike the normal APD, the ultralong APD increases sensitively with pacing cycle length even when the pacing rate is very slow, exhibiting a sensitive slow rate-dependence. In addition, these long action potentials may or may not exhibit early afterdepolarizations (EADs). Although these phenomena are well known, the underlying mechanisms and ionic determinants remain incompletely understood. In this study, computer simulations were performed with a simplified action potential model. Modifications to the L-type calcium current (I(Ca,L)) kinetics and the activation time constant of the delayed rectifier K current were used to investigate their effects on APD. We show that: 1) the ultralong APD and its sensitive slow rate-dependence are determined by the steady-state window and pedestal I(Ca,L) currents and the activation speed and the recovery of the delayed rectifier K current; 2) whether an ultralong action potential exhibits EADs or not depends on the kinetics of I(Ca,L); 3) increasing inward currents elevates the plateau voltage, which in general prolongs APD, however, this can also shorten APD when the APD is already ultralong under certain conditions; and 4) APD alternans occurs at slow pacing rates due to the sensitive slow rate-dependence and the ionic determinants are different from the ones causing APD alternans at fast heart rates.

Concepts: Heart, Cardiac muscle, Action potential, Exhibition, Sinoatrial node, Reaction rate, Inward-rectifier potassium ion channel, Cardiac action potential


The introduction of the so-called newer-generation transcatheter aortic valve implantation (TAVI) devices has led to a dramatic reduction in the incidence of complications associated with the procedure. However, preliminary data suggest that conduction abnormalities (particularly new-onset atrioventricular block and left bundle branch block) remain a frequent complication post TAVI. Although inconsistencies across studies are apparent, new-onset conduction abnormalities post TAVI may be associated with higher incidences of mortality, sudden cardiac death and left ventricular dysfunction. Strategies intended both to reduce the risk and to improve the management of such complications are clearly warranted. In fact, the indication and timing of permanent pacemaker implantation are frequently individualised according to centre and/or operator preference. Currently, studies assessing the impact of these complications and the optimal indications for permanent cardiac pacing are underway. In this article, we review the data available on the incidence and impact of conduction disturbances following TAVI, and propose a strategy for the management of such complications.

Concepts: Cardiology, Heart, Cardiac arrest, Cardiac electrophysiology, Left ventricle, Cardiac pacemaker, Sinoatrial node, Transcutaneous pacing


The heartbeat originates within the sinoatrial node (SAN), a small structure containing <10,000 genuine pacemaker cells. If the SAN fails, the ∼5 billion working cardiomyocytes downstream of it become quiescent, leading to circulatory collapse in the absence of electronic pacemaker therapy. Here we demonstrate conversion of rodent cardiomyocytes to SAN cells in vitro and in vivo by expression of Tbx18, a gene critical for early SAN specification. Within days of in vivo Tbx18 transduction, 9.2% of transduced, ventricular cardiomyocytes develop spontaneous electrical firing physiologically indistinguishable from that of SAN cells, along with morphological and epigenetic features characteristic of SAN cells. In vivo, focal Tbx18 gene transfer in the guinea-pig ventricle yields ectopic pacemaker activity, correcting a bradycardic disease phenotype. Myocytes transduced in vivo acquire the cardinal tapering morphology and physiological automaticity of native SAN pacemaker cells. The creation of induced SAN pacemaker (iSAN) cells opens new prospects for bioengineered pacemakers.

Concepts: Gene, Cardiology, Heart, Cardiac electrophysiology, Cardiac anatomy, Cardiac pacemaker, Sinoatrial node, Artificial pacemaker


Organ-specific functions of tissue-resident macrophages in the steady-state heart are unknown. Here, we show that cardiac macrophages facilitate electrical conduction through the distal atrioventricular node, where conducting cells densely intersperse with elongated macrophages expressing connexin 43. When coupled to spontaneously beating cardiomyocytes via connexin-43-containing gap junctions, cardiac macrophages have a negative resting membrane potential and depolarize in synchrony with cardiomyocytes. Conversely, macrophages render the resting membrane potential of cardiomyocytes more positive and, according to computational modeling, accelerate their repolarization. Photostimulation of channelrhodopsin-2-expressing macrophages improves atrioventricular conduction, whereas conditional deletion of connexin 43 in macrophages and congenital lack of macrophages delay atrioventricular conduction. In the Cd11b(DTR) mouse, macrophage ablation induces progressive atrioventricular block. These observations implicate macrophages in normal and aberrant cardiac conduction.

Concepts: Heart, Action potential, Circulatory system, Sinoatrial node, Atrioventricular node, Connexin, Resting potential, Electrical conduction system of the heart


Increased sympathetic and decreased parasympathetic activity contribute to heart failure (HF) symptoms and disease progression. Carotid baroreceptor stimulation (baroreflex activation therapy; BAT) results in centrally mediated reduction of sympathetic and increase in parasympathetic activity. Because patients treated with cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) may have less sympathetic / parasympathetic imbalance, we hypothesized that there would be differences in the response to BAT in patients with CRT versus those without CRT.

Concepts: Myocardial infarction, Cardiology, Heart failure, Ejection fraction, Heart, Mammal, Autonomic nervous system, Sinoatrial node


The sinoatrial node is the main impulse-generating tissue in the heart. Atrioventricular conduction block and arrhythmias caused by sinoatrial node dysfunction are clinically important and generally treated with electronic pacemakers. Although an excellent solution, electronic pacemakers incorporate limitations that have stimulated research on biological pacing. To assess the suitability of potential biological pacemakers, we tested the hypothesis that the spontaneous electric activity of human embryonic stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hESC-CMs) and induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (iPSC-CMs) exhibit beat rate variability and power-law behavior comparable to those of human sinoatrial node.

Concepts: Myocardial infarction, Cardiology, Heart, Embryonic stem cell, Cardiac pacemaker, Sinoatrial node, Atrioventricular node, Heart block


Rationale: Catecholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia (CPVT) is caused by mutations in cardiac ryanodine receptor (RyR2) or calsequestrin (Casq2) genes. Sinoatrial node dysfunction associated with CPVT may increase the risk for ventricular arrhythmia. Objective: To test the hypothesis that CPVT is suppressed by supraventricular overdrive stimulation. Methods and Results: Using CPVT mouse models (Casq2-/- and RyR2(R4496C)+/- mice), the effect of increasing sinus heart rate was tested by pretreatment with atropine and by atrial overdrive pacing. Increasing intrinsic sinus rate with atropine before catecholamine challenge suppressed ventricular tachycardia (VT) in 86% of Casq2-/- mice (6/7) and significantly reduced the ventricular arrhythmia (VA) score (atropine: 0.6±0.2 vs. vehicle: 1.7±0.3, p<0.05). Atrial overdrive pacing completely prevented VA in 16/19 (84%) Casq2-/- and in 7/8 (88%) RyR2(R4496C)+/- mice and significantly reduced ventricular premature beats in both CPVT models (p<0.05). Rapid pacing also prevented spontaneous calcium waves and triggered beats in isolated CPVT myocytes. In humans, heart-rate dependence of CPVT was evaluated by screening a CPVT patient registry for antiarrhythmic drug-naïve individuals that reached >85% of their maximum predicted heart rate during exercise testing. All 18 CPVT patients who fulfilled the inclusion criteria exhibited VA before reaching 87% of maximum heart rate. In six CPVT patients (33%), VA were paradoxically suppressed as sinus heart rates increased further with continued exercise. Conclusions: Accelerated supraventricular rates suppress VAs in two CPVT mouse models and in a subset of CPVT patients. Hypothetically, atrial overdrive pacing may be a therapy for preventing exercise-induced VT in treatment-refractory CPVT patients.

Concepts: Cardiology, Heart, Ventricular tachycardia, Supraventricular tachycardia, Heart rate, Sinoatrial node, Tachycardia, Bradycardia


-Risks associated with pediatric reconstructive heart surgery include injury of the sinoatrial node (SAN) and atrioventricular node (AVN), requiring cardiac rhythm management using implantable pacemakers. These injuries are result of difficulties in identifying nodal tissues intraoperatively. Here, we describe an approach based on confocal microscopy and extracellular fluorophores to quantify tissue microstructure and identify nodal tissue.

Concepts: Cardiology, Heart, Cardiac anatomy, Identification, Cardiac pacemaker, Sinoatrial node, Atrioventricular node, Electrical conduction system of the heart


Sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca content ([Ca](SRT)) is critical to both normal cardiac function and electrophysiology, and changes associated with pathology contribute to systolic and diastolic dysfunction and arrhythmias. The intra-SR free [Ca] ([Ca](SR)) dictates the [Ca](SRT), the driving force for Ca release and regulates release channel gating. We discuss measurement of [Ca](SR) and [Ca](SRT), how [Ca](SR) regulates activation and termination of release, and how Ca diffuses within the SR and influences SR Ca release during excitation-contraction coupling, Ca sparks and Cacbv waves. The entire SR network is connected and its lumen is also continuous with the nuclear envelope. Rapid Ca diffusion within the SR could stabilize and balance local [Ca](SR) within the myocyte, but restrictions to diffusion can create spatial inhomogeneities. Experimental measurements and mathematical models of [Ca](SR) to date have greatly enriched our understanding of these [Ca](SR) dynamics, but controversies exist and may stimulate new measurements and analysis.

Concepts: Bone, Mathematics, Endoplasmic reticulum, Blood pressure, Cardiac muscle, Force, Sinoatrial node, Myocyte


Somatic reprogramming by reexpression of the embryonic transcription factor T-box 18 (TBX18) converts cardiomyocytes into pacemaker cells. We hypothesized that this could be a viable therapeutic avenue for pacemaker-dependent patients afflicted with device-related complications, and therefore tested whether adenoviral TBX18 gene transfer could create biological pacemaker activity in vivo in a large-animal model of complete heart block. Biological pacemaker activity, originating from the intramyocardial injection site, was evident in TBX18-transduced animals starting at day 2 and persisted for the duration of the study (14 days) with minimal backup electronic pacemaker use. Relative to controls transduced with a reporter gene, TBX18-transduced animals exhibited enhanced autonomic responses and physiologically superior chronotropic support of physical activity. Induced sinoatrial node cells could be identified by their distinctive morphology at the site of injection in TBX18-transduced animals, but not in controls. No local or systemic safety concerns arose. Thus, minimally invasive TBX18 gene transfer creates physiologically relevant pacemaker activity in complete heart block, providing evidence for therapeutic somatic reprogramming in a clinically relevant disease model.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Genetics, Heart, Cardiac electrophysiology, Cardiac pacemaker, Sinoatrial node, Artificial pacemaker