Coupling and heterogeneity modulate pacemaking capability in healthy and diseased two-dimensional sinoatrial node tissue models

Chiara Campana, Eugenio Ricci, Chiara Bartolucci, Stefano Severi, Eric A. Sobie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Both experimental and modeling studies have attempted to determine mechanisms by which a small anatomical region, such as the sinoatrial node (SAN), can robustly drive electrical activity in the human heart. However, despite many advances from prior research, important questions remain unanswered. This study aimed to investigate, through mathematical modeling, the roles of intercellular coupling and cellular heterogeneity in synchronization and pacemaking within the healthy and diseased SAN. In a multicellular computational model of a monolayer of either human or rabbit SAN cells, simulations revealed that heterogenous cells synchronize their discharge frequency into a unique beating rhythm across a wide range of heterogeneity and intercellular coupling values. However, an unanticipated behavior appeared under pathological conditions where perturbation of ionic currents led to reduced excitability. Under these conditions, an intermediate range of intercellular coupling (900-4000 Mω) was beneficial to SAN automaticity, enabling a very small portion of tissue (3.4%) to drive propagation, with propagation failure occurring at both lower and higher resistances. This protective effect of intercellular coupling and heterogeneity, seen in both human and rabbit tissues, highlights the remarkable resilience of the SAN. Overall, the model presented in this work allowed insight into how spontaneous beating of the SAN tissue may be preserved in the face of perturbations that can cause individual cells to lose automaticity. The simulations suggest that certain degrees of gap junctional coupling protect the SAN from ionic perturbations that can be caused by drugs or mutations.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere1010098
JournalPLoS Computational Biology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022


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