Excitation–contraction coupling kinetics is dictated by the action potential rate of sinoatrial-nodal cells. These cells generate local Ca releases (LCRs) that activate Na/Ca exchanger current, which accelerates diastolic depolarization and determines the pace. LCRs are generated by clusters of ryanodine receptors, Ca release units (CRUs), residing in the sarcoplasmic reticulum. While CRU distribution exhibits substantial heterogeneity, its functional importance remains unknown. Using numerical modeling, here we show that with a square lattice distribution of CRUs, Ca-induced-Ca-release propagation during diastolic depolarization is insufficient for pacemaking within a broad range of realistic ICaL densities. Allowing each CRU to deviate randomly from its lattice position allows sparks to propagate, as observed experimentally. As disorder increases, the CRU distribution exhibits larger empty spaces and simultaneously CRU clusters, as in Poisson clumping. Propagating within the clusters, Ca release becomes synchronized, increasing action potential rate and reviving pacemaker function of dormant/nonfiring cells. However, cells with fully disordered CRU positions could not reach low firing rates and their β-adrenergic–receptor stimulation effect was substantially decreased. Inclusion of Cav1.3, a low-voltage activation L-type Ca channel isoform into ICaL, strongly increases recruitment of CRUs to fire during diastolic depolarization, increasing robustness of pacemaking and complementing effects of CRU distribution. Thus, order/disorder in CRU locations along with Cav1.3 expression regulates pacemaker function via synchronization of CRU firing. Excessive CRU disorder and/or overexpression of Cav1.3 boosts pacemaker function in the basal state, but limits the rate range, which may contribute to heart rate range decline with age and disease.

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