The transverse tubules (t-tubules) are invaginations of the cell membrane rich in several ion channels and other proteins devoted to the critical task of excitation-contraction coupling in cardiac muscle cells (cardiomyocytes). They are thought to promote the synchronous activation of the whole depth of the cell despite the fact that the signal to contract is relayed across the external membrane. However, recent work has shown that t-tubule structure and function are complex and tightly regulated in healthy cardiomyocytes. In this review, we outline the rapidly accumulating knowledge of its novel roles and discuss the emerging evidence of t-tubule dysfunction in cardiac disease, especially heart failure. Controversy surrounds the t-tubules' regulatory elements, and we draw attention to work that is defining these elements from the genetic and the physiological levels. More generally, this field illustrates the challenges in the dissection of the complex relationship between cellular structure and function.
This journal is © 2011 The Royal Society