Regulation of calcium dynamics and propagation velocity by tissue microstructure in engineered strands of cardiac tissue


Disruptions to cardiac tissue microstructure are common in diseased or injured myocardium and are known substrates for arrhythmias. However, we have a relatively coarse understanding of the relationships between myocardial tissue microstructure, propagation velocity and calcium cycling, due largely to the limitations of conventional experimental tools. To address this, we used microcontact printing to engineer strands of cardiac tissue with eight different widths, quantified several structural and functional parameters and established correlation coefficients. As strand width increased, actin alignment, nuclei density, sarcomere index and cell aspect ratio decreased with unique trends. The propagation velocity of calcium waves decreased and the rise time of calcium transients increased with increasing strand width. The decay time constant of calcium transients decreased and then slightly increased with increasing strand width. Based on correlation coefficients, actin alignment was the strongest predictor of propagation velocity and calcium transient rise time. Sarcomere index and cell aspect ratio were also strongly correlated with propagation velocity. Actin alignment, sarcomere index and cell aspect ratio were all weak predictors of the calcium transient decay time constant. We also measured the expression of several genes relevant to propagation and calcium cycling and found higher expression of the genes that encode for connexin 43 (Cx43) and a subunit of L-type calcium channels in thin strands compared to isotropic tissues. Together, these results suggest that thinner strands have higher values of propagation velocity and calcium transient rise time due to a combination of favorable tissue microstructure and enhanced expression of genes for Cx43 and L-type calcium channels. These data are important for defining how microstructural features regulate intercellular and intracellular calcium handling, which is needed to understand mechanisms of propagation in physiological situations and arrhythmogenesis in pathological situations.

In Integrative Biology