Interaction of background Ca2+ influx, sarcoplasmic reticulum threshold and heart failure in determining propensity for Ca2+ waves in sheep heart

J Physiol. 2022 Jun;600(11):2637-2650. doi: 10.1113/JP282168. Epub 2022 Mar 20.


Ventricular arrhythmias can cause death in heart failure (HF). A trigger is the occurrence of Ca2+ waves which activate a Na+ -Ca2+ exchange (NCX) current, leading to delayed after-depolarisations and triggered action potentials. Waves arise when sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+ content reaches a threshold and are commonly induced experimentally by raising external Ca2+ , although the mechanism by which this causes waves is unclear and was the focus of this study. Intracellular Ca2+ was measured in voltage-clamped ventricular myocytes from both control sheep and those subjected to rapid pacing to produce HF. Threshold SR Ca2+ content was determined by applying caffeine (10 mM) following a wave and integrating wave and caffeine-induced NCX currents. Raising external Ca2+ induced waves in a greater proportion of HF cells than control. The associated increase of SR Ca2+ content was smaller in HF due to a lower threshold. Raising external Ca2+ had no effect on total influx via the L-type Ca2+ current, ICa-L , and increased efflux on NCX. Analysis of sarcolemmal fluxes revealed substantial background Ca2+ entry which sustains Ca2+ efflux during waves in the steady state. Wave frequency and background Ca2+ entry were decreased by Gd3+ or the TRPC6 inhibitor BI 749327. These agents also blocked Mn2+ entry. Inhibiting connexin hemi-channels, TRPC1/4/5, L-type channels or NCX had no effect on background entry. In conclusion, raising external Ca2+ induces waves via a background Ca2+ influx through TRPC6 channels. The greater propensity to waves in HF results from increased background entry and decreased threshold SR content. KEY POINTS: Heart failure is a pro-arrhythmic state and arrhythmias are a major cause of death. At the cellular level, Ca2+ waves resulting in delayed after-depolarisations are a key trigger of arrhythmias. Ca2+ waves arise when the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) becomes overloaded with Ca2+ . We investigate the mechanism by which raising external Ca2+ causes waves, and how this is modified in heart failure. We demonstrate that a novel sarcolemmal background Ca2+ influx via the TRPC6 channel is responsible for SR Ca2+ overload and Ca2+ waves. The increased propensity for Ca2+ waves in heart failure results from an increase of background influx, and a lower threshold SR content. The results of the present study highlight a novel mechanism by which Ca2+ waves may arise in heart failure, providing a basis for future work and novel therapeutic targets.

Keywords: Ca2+; heart failure; sarcoplasmic reticulum; threshold; waves.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / etiology
  • Caffeine / pharmacology
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Heart Failure* / complications
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / physiology
  • Sarcoplasmic Reticulum* / metabolism
  • Sheep
  • TRPC6 Cation Channel


  • TRPC6 Cation Channel
  • Caffeine
  • Calcium