Pacemaker cells residing in the sinoatrial node generate the regular heartbeat. Ca2+ signaling controls the heartbeat rate-directly, through the effect on membrane molecules (NCX exchange, K+ channel), and indirectly, through activation of calmodulin-AC-cAMP-PKA signaling. Thus, the physiological role of signaling in pacemaker cells can only be assessed if the Ca2+ dynamics are in the physiological range. Cultured cells that can be genetically manipulated and/or virally infected with probes are required for this purpose. Because rabbit pacemaker cells in culture experience a decrease in their spontaneous action potential (AP) firing rate below the physiological range, Ca2+ dynamics are expected to be affected. However, Ca2+ dynamics in cultured pacemaker cells have not been reported before. We aim to a develop a modified culture method that sustains the global and local Ca2+ kinetics along with the AP firing rate of rabbit pacemaker cells. We used experimental and computational tools to test the viability of rabbit pacemaker cells in culture under various conditions. We tested the effect of culture dish coating, pH, phosphorylation, and energy balance on cultured rabbit pacemaker cells function. The cells were maintained in culture for 48 h in two types of culture media: one without the addition of a contraction uncoupler and one enriched with either 10 mM BDM (2,3-Butanedione 2-monoxime) or 25 μM blebbistatin. The uncoupler was washed out from the medium prior to the experiments. Cells were successfully infected with a GFP adenovirus cultured with either BDM or blebbistatin. Using either uncoupler during culture led to the cell surface area being maintained at the same level as fresh cells. Moreover, the phospholamban and ryanodine receptor densities and their phosphorylation level remained intact in culture when either blebbistatin or BDM were present. Spontaneous AP firing rate, spontaneous Ca2+ kinetics, and spontaneous local Ca2+ release parameters were similar in the cultured cells with blebbistatin as in fresh cells. However, BDM affects these parameters. Using experimental and a computational model, we showed that by eliminating contraction, phosphorylation activity is preserved and energy is reduced. However, the side-effects of BDM render it less effective than blebbistatin.
Keywords: Biophysics; Computational model; Sarcoplasmic reticulum; Sinoatrial node.
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