Extracellular discontinuities in cardiac muscle evidence for capillary effects on the action potential foot

Madison S. Spach, J. Francis Heidlage, Paul C. Dolber, Roger C. Barr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


It has become of fundamental importance to understand variations in the shape of the upstroke of the action potential in order to identify structural loading effects. One component of this goal is a detailed experimental analysis of the time course of the foot of the cardiac action potential (V(m) foot) during propagation in different directions in anisotropic cardiac muscle. To this end, we performed phase-plane analysis of transmembrane action potentials during anisotropic propagation in adult working myocardium. The results showed that during longitudinal propagation there was initial slowing of V(m) foot that resulted in deviations from a simple exponential; corollary changes occurred at numerous sites during transverse propagation. We hypothesized that the effect on V(m) foot observed in the experimental data was created by the microscopic structure, especially the capillaries. This hypothesis predicts that the phase-plane trajectory of V(m) foot will deviate from linearity in the presence of a high density of capillaries, and that a linear trajectory will occur in the absence of capillaries. Comparison of the results of Fast and Kleber (Circ Res. 1993;73:914-925) in a monolayer of neonatal cardiac myocytes, which is devoid of capillaries, and our results in newborn ventricular muscle, which is rich in capillaries, showed drastic differences in V(m) foot as predicted. Because this comparison provided experimental support for the capillary hypothesis, we explored the underlying biophysical mechanisms due to interstitial electrical field effects, using a '2-domain' model of myocytes and capillaries separated by interstitial space. The model results show that a propagating interstitial electrical field induces an inward capacitive current in the inactive capillaries that causes a feedback effect on the active membrane (source) that slows the initial rise of its action potential. The results show unexpected mechanisms related to extracellular structural loading that may play a role in selected conduction disturbances, such as in a reperfused ischemic region surrounded by normal myocardium.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1144-1164
Number of pages21
JournalCirculation Research
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 30 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Action potential foot
  • Capillary
  • Electrical field effect
  • Interstitial discontinuity
  • Interstitial potential

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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