The effects of heart rate on the action potential of guinea-pig and human ventricular muscle

D. Attwell, I. Cohen, D. A. Eisner

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    On increasing the stimulation frequency of isolated pieces of guinea-pig ventricular muscle, the resting potential depolarizes, and the action potential duration and amplitude are reduced. On termination of the high frequency train of action potentials, these changes are reversed. The resting potential changes are roughly exponential, with a time constant of the order of 10 sec, and are attributable to K+ accumulation in the extracellular space. They are not explicable in terms of known gating variables. The action potential duration and amplitude recover much more slowly than the resting potential, after a high frequency train (half-time ~ 5 min). The time course of these recoveries is not exponential, and is slower after trains which produce more shortening of the action potential. The slow time course suggests that K+ accumulation is not the main cause of the changes in action potential shape. Furthermore, when a certain depolarization of the resting potential is produced by a high frequency train, there is a greater reduction of the action potential duration than that which occurs when the bathing [K+] is raised to produce the same depolarization (Reiter & Stickel, 1968). This is so even when a gradient of extracellular [K+] is induced in the preparation, to mimic non-uniform K+ accumulation. Similarly, the shortening of the action potential produced by toxic doses of cardiotonic steroids is probably not the result of K+ accumulation. The slow changes of the action potential shape produced by a high frequency train are not attributable to the effects of gating variables, nor (solely) to a rise in the intracellular Na concentration stimulating the electrogenic Na/K pump. The dye 3,3'-diethylthiadicarbocyanine, which blocks the Ca2+-activated K conductance in the erythrocyte, has no significant effect on the shape changes. After a sudden change in heart rate, the QT interval of the human electrocardiogram (e.c.g.) changes slowly to a new equilibrium value. The time course of this change is similar to that of the action potential duration in guinea-pig ventricle following a change in stimulation frequency. These changes of the e.c.g. are probably not due to slow alterations of neural or hormonal factors extrinsic to the heart. In the whole heart, the effects on the ventricular action potential duration of changes in sympathetic or vagal tone, or of circulating catecholamines, can be largely accounted for by the changes of atrial driving frequency they produce.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)439-461
    Number of pages22
    JournalJournal of Physiology
    Publication statusPublished - 1981


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