The role of the funny current in pacemaker activity

Circ Res. 2010 Feb 19;106(3):434-46. doi: 10.1161/CIRCRESAHA.109.208041.


Abstract: Pacemaking is a basic physiological process, and the cellular mechanisms involved in this function have always attracted the keen attention of investigators. The "funny" (I(f)) current, originally described in sinoatrial node myocytes as an inward current activated on hyperpolarization to the diastolic range of voltages, has properties suitable for generating repetitive activity and for modulating spontaneous rate. The degree of activation of the funny current determines, at the end of an action potential, the steepness of phase 4 depolarization; hence, the frequency of action potential firing. Because I(f) is controlled by intracellular cAMP and is thus activated and inhibited by beta-adrenergic and muscarinic M2 receptor stimulation, respectively, it represents a basic physiological mechanism mediating autonomic regulation of heart rate. Given the complexity of the cellular processes involved in rhythmic activity, an exact quantification of the extent to which I(f) and other mechanisms contribute to pacemaking is still a debated issue; nonetheless, a wealth of information collected since the current was first described more than 30 years ago clearly agrees to identify I(f) as a major player in both generation of spontaneous activity and rate control. I(f)- dependent pacemaking has recently advanced from a basic, physiologically relevant concept, as originally described, to a practical concept that has several potentially useful clinical applications and can be valuable in therapeutically relevant conditions. Typically, given their exclusive role in pacemaking, f-channels are ideal targets of drugs aiming to pharmacological control of cardiac rate. Molecules able to bind specifically to and block f-channels can thus be used as pharmacological tools for heart rate reduction with little or no adverse cardiovascular side effects. Indeed a selective f-channel inhibitor, ivabradine, is today commercially available as a tool in the treatment of stable chronic angina. Also, several loss-of-function mutations of HCN4 (hyperpolarization-activated, cyclic-nucleotide gated 4), the major constitutive subunit of f-channels in pacemaker cells, are known today to cause rhythm disturbances, such as for example inherited sinus bradycardia. Finally, gene- or cell-based methods for in situ delivery of f-channels to silent or defective cardiac muscle represent novel approaches for the development of biological pacemakers eventually able to replace electronic devices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Benzazepines / pharmacology
  • Cyclic AMP / physiology
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels / physiology
  • Heart Conduction System / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels
  • Ion Channels / physiology
  • Ivabradine
  • Muscle Proteins / physiology
  • Phosphorylation
  • Potassium / physiology
  • Potassium Channels / drug effects
  • Potassium Channels / physiology*
  • Protein Processing, Post-Translational
  • Receptor, Muscarinic M2 / physiology
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta / physiology
  • Ryanodine / pharmacology
  • Ryanodine Receptor Calcium Release Channel / physiology
  • Sinoatrial Node / cytology
  • Sinoatrial Node / physiology*
  • Sodium / physiology


  • Benzazepines
  • Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Cation Channels
  • HCN4 protein, human
  • Hyperpolarization-Activated Cyclic Nucleotide-Gated Channels
  • Ion Channels
  • Muscle Proteins
  • Potassium Channels
  • Receptor, Muscarinic M2
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, beta
  • Ryanodine Receptor Calcium Release Channel
  • Ryanodine
  • Ivabradine
  • Sodium
  • Cyclic AMP
  • Potassium