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Medicine: The heart's metronome
Date:11/12/2013

A specific cell population is responsible for ensuring that our heartbeat remains regular. Researchers from Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet (LMU) in Munich have now elucidated the mode of action of one of the crucial components of the heart's intrinsic pacemaker.

The heart possesses a pacemaker of its very own. Specialized pacemaker cells in the so-called sinoatrial node in the left ventricle of the heart control its rate of contraction and relaxation by orchestrating a recurring sequence of electrical signals. Specific proteins known as HCN channels, which are located in the surface membranes of pacemaker cells, play a central role in the generation and transmission of these signals. These proteins function as pores for the passage of electrically charged atoms (ions) across the cell membrane. Because the pore diameter can be regulated, the channels can control the flow of ions across the membrane, and thus determine the difference in electrical potential between the inner and outer surfaces of the cell. Cyclical changes in this parameter give rise to autonomously generated, rhythmic electrical impulses that dictate heartbeat and cardiac rhythmicity.

HCN channels are found primarily in the heart and in the brain, and come in four subtypes, HCN1-4. HCN4 is responsible for about 80% of the total ion current that passes through HCN channels in the sinoatrial node. The other 20% is carried by HCN1 and HCN2. "But while the functions of HCN2 and HCN4 in the sinoatrial node have been extensively studied, the impact of HCN1 on heart rate has so far remained unknown," says Professor Christian Wahl-Schott of the Department of Pharmacy at LMU, who has now closed this gap in our knowledge of the heart's intrinsic pacemaker.

Wahl-Schott and his team and also researchers from Professor Martin Biel's group, tackled the problem by using a mouse strain in which the HCN1 channels in the cells of the sino-atrial node are defective. With the aid of this
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Contact: Luise Dirscherl
dirscherl@lmu.de
49-892-180-2706
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitt Mnchen
Source:Eurekalert

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