Electrotonic loading of anisotropic cardiac monolayers by unexcitable cells depends on connexin type and expression level.
Understanding how electrotonic loading of cardiomyocytes by unexcitable cells alters cardiac impulse conduction may be highly relevant to fibrotic heart disease. In this study, we optically mapped electrical propagation in confluent, aligned neonatal rat cardiac monolayers electrotonically loaded with cardiac fibroblasts, control human embryonic kidney (HEK-293) cells, or HEK-293 cells genetically engineered to overexpress the gap junction proteins connexin-43 or connexin-45. Gap junction expression and function were assessed by immunostaining, immunoblotting, and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching and were correlated with the optically mapped propagation of action potentials. We found that neonatal rat ventricular fibroblasts negative for the myofibroblast marker smooth muscle alpha-actin expressed connexin-45 rather than connexin-43 or connexin-40, weakly coupled to cardiomyocytes, and, without significant depolarization of cardiac resting potential, slowed cardiac conduction to 75% of control only at high (>60%) coverage densities, similar to loading effects found from HEK-293 cells expressing similar levels of connexin-45. In contrast, HEK-293 cells with connexin-43 expression similar to that of cardiomyocytes significantly decreased cardiac conduction velocity and maximum capture rate to as low as 22% and 25% of control values, respectively, while increasing cardiac action potential duration to 212% of control and cardiac resting potential from -71.6 +/- 4.9 mV in controls to -65.0 +/- 3.8 mV. For all unexcitable cell types and coverage densities, velocity anisotropy ratio remained unchanged. Despite the induced conduction slowing, none of the loading cell types increased the proportion of spontaneously active monolayers. These results signify connexin isoform and expression level as important contributors to potential electrical interactions between unexcitable cells and myocytes in cardiac tissue.
McSpadden, LC; Kirkton, RD; Bursac, N
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