Propagated repolarization of simulated action potentials in cardiac muscle and smooth muscle
© Sperelakis et al; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2005
Received: 30 November 2004
Accepted: 14 February 2005
Published: 14 February 2005
Propagation of repolarization is a phenomenon that occurs in cardiac muscle. We wanted to test whether this phenomenon would also occur in our model of simulated action potentials (APs) of cardiac muscle (CM) and smooth muscle (SM) generated with the PSpice program.
A linear chain of 5 cells was used, with intracellular stimulation of cell #1 for the antegrade propagation and of cell #5 for the retrograde propagation. The hyperpolarizing stimulus parameters applied for termination of the AP in cell #5 were varied over a wide range in order to generate strength / duration (S/D) curves. Because it was not possible to insert a second "black box" (voltage-controlled current source) into the basic units representing segments of excitable membrane that would allow the cells to respond to small hyperpolarizing voltages, gap-junction (g.j.) channels had to be inserted between the cells, represented by inserting a resistor (Rgj) across the four cell junctions.
Application of sufficient hyperpolarizing current to cell #5 to bring its membrane potential (Vm) to within the range of the sigmoidal curve of the Na+ conductance (CM) or Ca++ conductance (SM) terminated the AP in cell #5 in an all-or-none fashion. If there were no g.j. channels (Rgj = ∞), then only cell #5 repolarized to its stable resting potential (RP; -80 mV for CM and -55 mV for SM). The positive junctional cleft potential (VJC) produced only a small hyperpolarization of cell #4. However, if many g.j. channels were inserted, more hyperpolarizing current was required (for a constant duration) to repolarize cell #5, but repolarization then propagated into cells 4, 3, 2, and 1. When duration of the pulses was varied, a typical S/D curve, characteristic of excitable membranes, was produced. The chronaxie measured from the S/D curve was about 1.0 ms, similar to that obtained for muscle membranes.
These experiments demonstrate that normal antegrade propagation of excitation can occur in the complete absence of g.j. channels, and therefore no low-resistance pathways between cells, by the electric field (negative VJC) developed in the narrow junctional clefts. Because it was not possible to insert a second black-box into the basic units that would allow the cells to respond to small hyperpolarizing voltages, only cell #5 (the cell injected with hyperpolarizing pulses) repolarized in an all-or-none manner. But addition of many g.j. channels allowed repolarization to propagate in a retrograde direction over all 5 cells.
There are no low-resistance connections between the cells in several different cardiac muscle and smooth muscle preparations [reviewed in refs.  and ]. In a computer simulation study of propagation in cardiac muscle, it was shown that the electric field (EF) that is generated in the narrow junctional clefts, when the prejunctional membrane fires an action potential (AP), depolarizes the postjunctional membrane to its threshold [3–5]. Propagation by mechanisms not requiring low-resistance connections have also been proposed by others [6–9]. This results in excitation of the postjunctional cell, after a brief junctional delay. The total propagation time consists primarily of the summed junctional delays. This results in a staircase-shaped propagation, the surface sarcolemma of each cell firing almost simultaneously . Propagation has been demonstrated to be discontinuous (or saltatory) in cardiac muscle [10–13]. Fast Na+ channels are localized in the junctional membranes of the intercalated disks of cardiac muscle [5, 14, 15], a requirement for the EF mechanism to work [1–5].
We recently modeled propagation of APs of cardiac muscle and smooth muscle using the PSpice program for circuit design and analysis [16–18]. Like the mathematical simulation published in 1977  and 1991 , the EF developed in the junctional clefts (negative VJC) was large and sufficient to allow transfer of excitation to the contiguous cell, without the requirement of gap-junction (g.j.) channels. Propagation of excitation can occur by the EF mechanism alone, even when the excitability of the cells was made low. In connexin-43 (heterozygous) and Cx40 knockout mice, propagation in the heart still occurs, but it is slowed [19–22] as predicted by our PSpice simulation study .
The present experiments were carried out to study propagated repolarization in this model of simulated action potentials (APs). Propagation of repolarization is a phenomenon that occurs in cardiac muscle . It has been shown that propagation of vasodilation occurs in the microvasculature , and that the endothelial cells are involved in the conduction of hyperpolarization and vasodilation in an artery . Therefore, our hypothesis was that propagated repolarization would also occur in our PSpice model.
The myocardial cell was assumed to be a cylinder 150 μm long and 16 μm in diameter, and the smooth muscle cell a cylinder 200 μm long and 5 μm diameter. Since in vascular smooth muscle (VSM), the muscle fibers run in a circular direction, if transverse velocity is calculated, the fiber diameter should be used. The values of the capacitive and the resistive elements in each basic unit were set to reflect the input resistance (ca 20 MΩ) and input capacitance (ca 100 pF) of the individual cells, and the junctional units were prorated, with respect to the surface units, based on relative areas represented. At rest, the resistance of K+ compared to Na+ (cardiac muscle) or Ca++ (smooth muscle) were set to give resting potentials (RPs) of -80 mV for cardiac muscle and -55 mV for smooth muscle. During excitation, the action potentials (APs) overshot to +32 mV and +11 mV, respectively.
Electrical stimulations (IS1) were always applied internally to the first cell of the chain (cell A1). Rectangular depolarizing current pulses of 0.25 nA amplitude and 0.50 ms duration were applied. The delay time before the IS1 pulse was applied was usually set to 1.0 ms in SM. A second stimulus (IS2) that was hyperpolarizing was applied to the inside of the last cell (A5) of the chain when the APs of all 5 cells were in their plateau phase. The intensity and duration of the IS2 pulses were varied over a wide range in order to generate strength / duration (S/D) curves.
Because the PSpice program does not have a voltage-dependent resistance (to generate the increase in Na+ or Ca++ conductance during excitation), this function had to be done with a V-controlled current source (our "black-box"). The sigmoidal relationship between conductance and membrane potential (VM), over a relatively narrow VM range, was mimicked by the black-box. The Na+ or Ca++ current required for excitation had to be calculated for several VM values and inserted into the GTABLE function.
Experiments were done with a single chain of 5 cells or 2 cells. There were no gap junctions between the cells of the chain under initial conditions. The presence of gap junction connexons (tunnels) was represented by adding a variable shunt resistance (Rgj) across each cell-to-cell junction. This resistor connected the inner surface of the prejunctional membrane with the inner surface of the postjunctional membrane. This Rgj shunt resistance was varied between 10,000 MΩ (1 tunnel), 1000 MΩ (10 tunnels in parallel), 100 MΩ (100 tunnels), 10 MΩ (1,000 tunnels), and 1.0 MΩ (10,000 tunnels). Each tunnel was assumed to have a conductance of 100 pS.
A. All-or- None Repolarization of Stimulated Cell A5
B. Propagation of Repolarization
As indicated in the Methods section, it was not possible to insert a second black-box in the K+ leg of the basic circuit, because the PSpice program became erratic. Therefore, in order to achieve propagation of the repolarization of cell A5 in the retrograde direction, it was necessary to insert gap-junction channels between the cells of the chain (1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000 channels). This corresponded to adding resistive shunts between the cells across the junctions (Rgj) of 10000, 1000, 100, 10, and 1.0 MΩ (assuming each channel has a conductance of 100 pS).
C. Strength/Duration Curves
In principle, the addition of a second black-box into the K+ leg of the basic circuit would allow the cell to repolarize in an all-or-none fashion to small repolarizing currents. When this was attempted, the program behaved erratically. So in the absence of g.j. channels, only the cell (A5) injected with repolarizing current (IS2) was able to repolarize in an all-or-none manner. The neighboring cell (A4) exhibited only a slight repolarization of <1 mV when cell A5 had repolarized completely back to the RP (-80 mV for CM and -55 mV for SM). This fact emphasized that there were no low-resistance connections between the cells under our initial conditions.
However, addition of 10,000, 1,000, or 100 g.j channels (corresponding to Rgj values of 1.0, 10, and 100 MΩ) did allow propagation of repolarization to occur. The borderline value was 10 g.j. channels (1000 MΩ Rgj), e.g., repolarization propagated part-way down the chain in SM and almost succeeded in CM. Of course, inserting the g.j. channels required that the IS2 repolarizing current applied be much greater. This is because the IS2 current had to spread down the entire chain, with the threshold current required to cause all cells to repolarize being determined by sufficient current entering distal cell A1 to repolarize it to the GTABLE sigmoidal region. Thus the proximal cells, like A5 and A4, became hyperpolarized beyond the level required for their repolarization.
The repolarizing IS2 current intensity required for the all-or-none repolarization was lower when the rectangular pulse duration was increased. This was true for both when only the injected cell A5 was repolarized (Rgj = ∞) and when all 5 cells repolarized (Rgj of 1.0, 10, and 100 MΩ). Plots of current intensity (ordinate) versus current duration (abscissa) gave the typical hyperbolic strength/ duration curve for excitable membranes. The chronaxie values were about 1.0 ms, for which a time constant τm of about 1.44 ms could be calculated. The S/D curves for the two conditions (Rgj = ∞ and Rgj = 10 MΩ) show that the current intensity required was about 8–10-fold greater when there were many gj-channels, in both CM and SM.
Calculated velocity of retrograde propagation (θr) as compared to that for antegrade propagation (θa) for cardiac muscle (CM) and smooth muscle (SM).
2-Cell Chain (Cardiac)
5-Cell Chain (cm/sec)
No. of GJ-Channels
The present study provides some new and important information about the PSpice simulations. First, it verifies that propagation (orthodromic) can occur in the complete absence of gap-junction channels, as previously reported [3, 4, 16–18]. Second, it demonstrates for the first time that activation of Na+ (in CM) or Ca++ (in SM) channels is reversible, by bringing Vm back to the level of the sigmoidal activation curve (GTABLE). Third, it shows for the first time that, in the PSpice model, the membranes exhibit the characteristic strength/duration curves. Fourth, it shows that the PSpice program has some serious limitations.
In summary, because of technical difficulties with the PSpice program, it was necessary to insert gj-channels in order to produce propagation of repolarization. Otherwise, only the modeled cell injected (A5) with the repolarizing IS2 current was able to repolarize. Since the potential change in the neighboring cell was only about 1 mV or less, this emphasizes that there were no low-resistance connections between the simulated cells under initial conditions. Propagation in the orthodromic direction occurs by the electric field (EF) discussed in previous papers (1–4, 16–18). The repolarizing IS2 current gave S/D plots that were typical rectangular hyperbolic curves for excitable membranes, with chronaxie values of about 1.0 ms, both for CM and SM. The calculated velocity for propagated repolarization was greater when the number of gj-channels was increased. The antidromic (retrograde) propagation velocity was usually considerably slower than the orthodromic (antegrade) propagation velocity for depolarization. The present findings do not necessarily imply that, in biological tissue, gap junctions are required for propagated repolarization to occur.
The authors thank Cara Stevens for typing the manuscript.
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