Embryonic heart cell aggregates were irradiated with ultraviolet light at wavelengths between 260 and 310 nm. Spontaneous beat rate was monitored with the aid of a closed-circuit TV camera and, in separate experiments, electrophysiological changes were assayed by intracellular recording. The characteristic response of 7-day aggregates was an increase in spontaneous beat rate to a maximum plateau level, followed by a rather abrupt cessation of beating. Intracellular recordings during irradiation showed a marked decline in the maximum rate of rise, overshoot, and repolarization phase of the action potential, and a significant change in threshold toward zero. The action spectrum for the termination of beating peaked between 290 and 295 nm; it fell off sharply at longer wavelengths and more slowly at shorter wavelengths. The maximum increase in beat rate was increasingly greater for shorter wavelengths and exhibited no peak in the wavelength range investigated. The sensitivity of aggregates to 295-nm light, as measured by the inverse of irradiation time required to terminate beating, decreased with increasing aggregate size and external potassium concentration, was relatively independent of temperature, and increased with embryonic age. The ultraviolet-induced increase in beat rate and termination of beating are attributed to separate complementary processes, a depolarization of the membrane, and a decline in "fast" sodium conductance.

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