Sarcomere length measurement by microscopic and laser diffraction techniques in trabeculae of rat heart, superfused with Krebs-Henseleit solution at 21 degrees C, showed spontaneous local sarcomere shortening after electrically stimulated twitches. The contractions originated in a region of several hundred micrometers throughout the width of the muscle close to the end of the preparation that was damaged by dissection. The contractions propagated at a constant velocity along the trabeculae. The velocity of propagation increased from 0 to 10 mm/s in proportion to the number of stimuli (3-30) in a train of electrically evoked twitches at 2 Hz and at an external calcium ion concentration ([Ca++]o) of 1.5 mM. At a constant number of stimuli (n), the velocity of propagation increased from 0 to 15 mm/s with [Ca++]o increasing from 1 to 7 mM. In addition, increase of n and [Ca++]o led to an increase of the extent of local sarcomere shortening during the spontaneous contractions, and the occurrence of multiple contractions. Spontaneous contractions with much internal shortening and a high velocity of propagation frequently induced spontaneous synchronized contractions and eventually arrhythmias. Propagation of spontaneous contractions at low and variable velocity is consistent with the hypothesis that calcium leakage into damaged cells causes spontaneous calcium release from the overloaded sarcoplasmic reticulum in the damaged cells. This process propagates as a result of diffusion of calcium into adjacent cells, which triggers calcium release from their sarcoplasmic reticulum. We postulate that the propagation velocity depends on the intracellular calcium ion concentration, with increases with n and [Ca++]o.
The effect of sudden local fluctuations of the free sarcoplasmic [Ca++]i in cardiac cells on calcium release and calcium uptake by the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) was calculated with the aid of a simplified model of SR calcium handling. The model was used to evaluate whether propagation of calcium transients and the range of propagation velocities observed experimentally (0.05-15 mm s(-1)) could be predicted. Calcium fluctuations propagate by virtue of focal calcium release from the SR, diffusion through the cytosol (which is modulated by binding to troponin and calmodulin and sequestration by the SR), and subsequently induce calcium release from adjacent release sites of the SR. The minimal and maximal velocities derived from the simulation were 0.09 and 15 mm s(-1) respectively. The method of solution involved writing the diffusion equation as a difference equation in the spatial coordinates. Thus, coupled ordinary differential equations in time with banded coefficients were generated. The coupled equations were solved using Gear's sixth order predictor-corrector algorithm for stiff equations with reflective boundaries. The most important determinants of the velocity of propagation of the calcium waves were the diastolic [Ca++]i, the rate of rise of the release, and the amount of calcium released from the SR. The results are consistent with the assumptions that calcium loading causes an increase in intracellular calcium and calcium in the SR, and an increase in the amount and rate of calcium released. These two effects combine to increase the propagation velocity at higher levels of calcium loading.