From ionic to cellular variability in human atrial myocytes: an integrative computational and experimental study

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018 May 1;314(5):H895-H916. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00477.2017. Epub 2017 Dec 22.


Variability refers to differences in physiological function between individuals, which may translate into different disease susceptibility and treatment efficacy. Experiments in human cardiomyocytes face wide variability and restricted tissue access; under these conditions, computational models are a useful complementary tool. We conducted a computational and experimental investigation in cardiomyocytes isolated from samples of the right atrial appendage of patients undergoing cardiac surgery to evaluate the impact of variability in action potentials (APs) and subcellular ionic densities on Ca2+ transient dynamics. Results showed that 1) variability in APs and ionic densities is large, even within an apparently homogenous patient cohort, and translates into ±100% variation in ionic conductances; 2) experimentally calibrated populations of models with wide variations in ionic densities yield APs overlapping with those obtained experimentally, even if AP characteristics of the original generic model differed significantly from experimental APs; 3) model calibration with AP recordings restricts the variability in ionic densities affecting upstroke and resting potential, but redundancy in repolarization currents admits substantial variability in ionic densities; and 4) model populations constrained with experimental APs and ionic densities exhibit three Ca2+ transient phenotypes, differing in intracellular Ca2+ handling and Na+/Ca2+ membrane extrusion. These findings advance our understanding of the impact of variability in human atrial electrophysiology. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Variability in human atrial electrophysiology is investigated by integrating for the first time cellular-level and ion channel recordings in computational electrophysiological models. Ion channel calibration restricts current densities but not cellular phenotypic variability. Reduced Na+/Ca2+ exchanger is identified as a primary mechanism underlying diastolic Ca2+ fluctuations in human atrial myocytes.

Keywords: action potential; population of models.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Aged
  • Atrial Appendage / metabolism*
  • Biological Variation, Population
  • Calcium Channels / metabolism*
  • Calcium Signaling*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kinetics
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Cardiovascular*
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism*
  • Phenotype
  • Ryanodine Receptor Calcium Release Channel / metabolism
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum Calcium-Transporting ATPases / metabolism
  • Sodium-Calcium Exchanger / metabolism


  • Calcium Channels
  • Ryanodine Receptor Calcium Release Channel
  • Sodium-Calcium Exchanger
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum Calcium-Transporting ATPases