Ca2+ cycling in cardiomyocytes from a high-performance reptile, the varanid lizard (Varanus exanthematicus)

Gina L J Galli, Daniel E. Warren, Holly A. Shiels

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    The varanid lizard possesses one of the largest aerobic capacities among reptiles with maximum rates of oxygen consumption that are twice that of other lizards of comparable sizes at the same temperature. To support this aerobic capacity, the varanid heart possesses morphological adaptations that allow the generation of high heart rates and blood pressures. Specializations in excitation-contraction coupling may also contribute to the varanids superior cardiovascular performance. Therefore, we investigated the electrophysiological properties of the L-type Ca2+ channel and the Na+/Ca 2+ exchanger (NCX) and the contribution of the sarcoplasmic reticulum to the intracellular Ca2+ transient (Δ[Ca2+] i) in varanid lizard ventricular myocytes. Additionally, we used confocal microscopy to visualize myocytes and make morphological measurements. Lizard ventricular myocytes were found to be spindle-shaped, lack T-tubules, and were ∼190 μm in length and 5-7 μm in width and depth. Cardiomyocytes had a small cell volume (∼2 pL), leading to a large surface area-to-volume ratio (18.5), typical of ectothermic vertebrates. The voltage sensitivity of the L-type Ca2+ channel current (ICa), steady-state activation and inactivation curves, and the time taken for recovery from inactivation were also similar to those measured in other reptiles and teleosts. However, transsarcolemmal Ca2+ influx via reverse mode Na +/Ca2+ exchange current was fourfold higher than most other ectotherms. Moreover, pharmacological inhibition of the sarcoplasmic reticulum led to a 40% reduction in the Δ[Ca2+]i amplitude, and slowed the time course of decay. In aggregate, our results suggest varanids have an enhanced capacity to transport Ca2+ through the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger, and sarcoplasmic reticulum suggesting specializations in excitation-contraction coupling may provide a means to support high cardiovascular performance. Copyright © 2009 the American Physiological Society.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)R1636-R1644
    JournalAJP: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2009


    • Electrophysiology
    • Excitation-contraction coupling
    • L-type Ca channel
    • Na+/Ca2+ exchanger
    • Sarcoplasmic reticulum


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