The sinoatrial (SA) and atrioventricular (AV) nodes are specialized centers of the heart conduction system and are composed of muscle cells with distinctive morphological and electrophysiological properties. We report here results of immunofluorescence and immunoperoxidase studies on the bovine heart showing that a large number of SA and AV nodal cells share a distinct type of myosin heavy chain (MHC) which is not found in other myocardial cells and can thus be used as a cell-type-specific marker. The antibody used in this study was raised against fetal skeletal myosin and reacted with fetal skeletal but not with adult skeletal MHCs. Both atrial and ventricular fibers, as well as fibers of the ventricular conduction tissue were unlabeled by this antibody. Specific reactivity was exclusively seen in most cells in the central portions of the SA and AV nodes and rare cells in perinodal areas. However, a number of nodal cells, particularly those located in the peripheral nodal regions, were unreactive with this antibody. The myosin composition of nodal tissues was also explored using two antibodies reacting specifically with alpha-MHC, the predominant atrial isoform, and beta-MHC, the predominant ventricular isoform. Most nodal cells were reactive for alpha-MHC and a number of them also for beta-MHC. Variation in reactivity with the two antibodies was also observed in perinodal areas: at these sites a population of large fibers reacted exclusively for beta-MHC. These findings point to the existence of muscle cell heterogeneity with respect to myosin composition both in nodal and perinodal tissues.

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