BACKGROUND: Studies using isolated sinoatrial node (SAN) cells indicate that rhythmic spontaneous sarcoplasmic reticulum calcium release (Ca clock) plays an important role in SAN automaticity. In the intact SAN, cross-contamination of optical signals from the SAN and the right atrium (RA) prevent the definitive testing of Ca clock hypothesis. The aim of this study was to use a novel approach to selectively mapping the intact SAN to examine the Ca clock mechanism.
METHODS AND RESULTS: We simultaneously mapped intracellular Ca (Ca(i)) and membrane potential (V(m)) in 10 isolated, Langendorff-perfused normal canine RAs. The excitability of the RA was suppressed with high-potassium Tyrode's solution, allowing selective optical mapping of V(m) and Ca(i) of the SAN. Isoproterenol (ISO, 0.03 µmol/L) decreased the cycle length of the sinus beats, and shifted the leading pacemaker site from the middle or inferior SAN to the superior SAN in all RAs. The Ca(i) upstroke preceded the V(m) in the leading pacemaker site by up to 18 ± 2 ms. ISO-induced changes to SAN were inhibited by ryanodine (3 µmol/L), but not ZD7288 (3 µmol/L), a selective I(f) blocker.
CONCLUSIONS: We conclude that, in the isolated canine RA, a high extracellular potassium concentration can suppress atrial excitability thus leading to SAN-RA conduction block, allowing selective optical mapping of the intact SAN. Acceleration of Ca cycling in the superior SAN underlies the mechanism of sinus tachycardia during sympathetic stimulation.