Spatial and functional relationship between myocytes and fibroblasts in the rabbit sinoatrial node

A M De Mazière, A C van Ginneken, R Wilders, H J Jongsma, L N Bouman
Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology 1992, 24 (6): 567-78
In an attempt to understand better the directional differences in conduction velocity in the rabbit sinoatrial node, a possible conductive role of the abundant connective tissue surrounding the myocytes has been investigated. In particular, starting from the finding of communicating junctions between heart muscle cells and fibroblasts in tissue culture, heterologous gap junctions were searched for in thin sections of the rabbit sinoatrial node. Within and at the edge of nodal cell clusters, fibroblasts often show thin sheet-like extensions parallel to the surface of myocytes. In contrast to the intimately contacting myocytes, fibroblast extensions are kept separated from the myocytes by the basement membrane of the latter. Besides some rare undefined membrane appositions a single tiny gap junction-like structure was found between a fibroblast and a myocyte in a tissue area in which the calculated number of gap junctions between myocytes amounts from 1.10(4) to 3.10(4). Yet, fibroblasts are linked together regularly by small gap junctions containing a wider gap than the junctions between the myocytes (1.4 +/- 0.4 nm vs. 1.0 +/- 0.4 nm, resp., P less than 0.05). As an alternative to direct electrical coupling, the possibility of interaction between fibroblasts and nodal cells by capacitive coupling has been considered. Model calculations based on the reconstruction of some fibroblast extensions parallel to nodal cells show that the current which can be transmitted from discharging nodal cells to fibroblasts is negligible. It is concluded that fibroblasts do not participate in the impulse conduction within the sinoatrial node. The origin of the directional differences in conduction velocity in the sinoatrial node must be found in the spatial arrangement of the myocytes and the distribution of the gap junctions between these cells only.

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