Based on the lecture and text material, you should be able to do the following:
→ describe the microscopic structure of cardiac muscle
→ compare and contrast cardiac muscle cells and skeletal myocytes (muscle cells)
→ describe the contraction of individual cardiac myocytes
→ understand and describe the electrical basis for cardiac muscle contraction
→ understand and describe the electrical connections between cardiac myocytes
→ describe the basic anatomy of the heart
→ describe the pathway that conducts pacemaker signals throughout the heart
→ outline the flow of blood through the heart
→ describe the location and function of the heart valves
→ outline the effects of sympathetic and parasympathetic stimulation on the heart
→ describe cardiac circulation
→ understand what is occurring during a myocardial infarction
→ describe what is meant by cardiac myopathy
→ understand the heart as an endocrine organ
→ describe the cardiac cycle
→ outline the basic points of an ECG trace Properties of Cardiac Muscle:
Like skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle is striated and contraction occurs using the
same sliding filament mechanism.
In contrast to skeletal muscle, cardiac muscle fibers are short, fat, branched and
Cardiac muscle fibers also have onlyone or two nuclei, contain more mitochondria, have
fewer T-tubules, and much less sarcoplasmic reticulum.
Adjacent cardiac muscle fibers are interlocked by finger like extensions called
intercalculated discs. These discs contain desmosomes and gap junctions.
Desmosomes hold the cells together and prevent separation during contraction.
Gap junctions allow the ions of the action potential to pass freelyfrom cell to cell
so that the whole heart contracts instead of just a few cells.
Since all the cells of the heart are coupled electricallythrough gap junctions, it behaves as
a single functioning unit or a functional syncytium.
Cardiac Action Potential:
In contrast to skeletal muscle fibers which require independent stimulation, some cardiac
muscle cells (about 1%) are self excitable and can start their own depolarization which
leads to depolarization of the rest of the heart in a spontaneous and rhythmic way.
This is called autorhythmicity and these cells pace the heart.
In skeletal muscles, impulses do not spread from cell to cell. As mentioned above, the
cardiac muscle is an all or none effect. The heart contracts as a whole unit, or not at all.
The absolute refractory period of the cardiac muscle cell is much longer than that of
neurons or skeletal muscle fibers. It lasts 250 ms, almost as long as the contraction. This
is to prevent tetanic contractions, which would stop the heart from pumping.
Cardiac Muscle Contraction:
90% of cardiac cells are contractile muscle fibers, which are responsible for pumping the
10-20% of Ca need for contraction enters from extracellular space. Once inside, this
calcium stimulates the release of much larger amounts (80%) of Ca from the
Cardiac muscle contraction is very similar to that of skeletal muscle with the difference
arising from the presence of slow voltage-gated Ca channel in the plasma membrane: In a resting state, ionic calcium cannot enter the cardiac fibers.
When depolarization occurs, not only are fast Na channels opened, slow Ca 2+
channels are also opened and allow an influx of Ca .
The influx of calcium trigger opening of Ca sensitive channels called
ryanodine channels in the sarcoplasmic reticulum.
Ryanodine channels give off calcium sparks or bursts that dramaticallyincrease
intracellular [Ca ]. i
During this time, repolarization is already occurring, but the Ca surge across the
membrane prolongs the depolarization, which is called a plateau.
As long as Ca is entering cardiac cells, they willcontinue to contract.
This plateau leads to the contraction (action potential) lasting 200 ms or more (as
compared to the skeletal muscle contraction lasting 15 to 100 ms).
This provides the heart with the capability needed to eject blood from the
After the 200 ms, the action potential falls rapidly, Ca channels close; K +
channels open and the cells are repolarized.
During this time, the Ca ions are pumped back into the sarcoplasmic
reticulum and extracellular space.
The ionic events which occur in contractile cardiac cells are significantlydifferent from the
ionic events which happen in the pacemaker cells. The primary difference is a lack of a
fast inward Na current.
Cardiac muscles have much more mitochondria than other cells, which is why it is
absolutely dependent on oxygen for it=s metabolism. It relies exclusivelyon aerobic
When a region of the heart is deprived of oxygen, the oxygen-starved cells begin
to metabolize anaerobically.
This produces lactic acid, which causes pH to fall(H rises) and impairs the
cardiac cell=s ability to produce ATP that is needed to pump Ca out of 2+
The rising levels of intracellular Ca and H cause the gap junctions to
close and isolate the damaged cells. The action potentials look for other paths to reach the cardiac cells beyond them, and the
damaged cells become ischaemic.
If the ischaemia persists, then the cells die, resulting in a myocardial infarction (a
common type of heart attack).
Excitation and Electrical Events:
Intrinsic Conduction System of the Heart:
The heart does not depend on the nervous system to depolarize and contract, it has an
inbuilt mechanismcalled the intrinsic cardiac conduction system, which consist of
specialized non-contractile cells called pacemaker cells.
Pacemaker cells are self-excitatory and they initiate and distribute impulses throughout the
heart in a consistent, orderly fashion.
They have gap junctions that pass AP=s from one cell to the next, but only along
a specific conduction pathway.
The conducting system consists of:
Sinoatrial (SA) Node - a group of specialized cells located in the
right atrium where the superior vena cava enters the atrium
Internodal Pathways B specialized cells that act as a direct
pathway from the SA Node to the AV Node. These pathways do
not use gap junctions to send impulses.
Atrioventricular (AV) Node B a group of specialized cells located
at the fibrous septum between the right atrium and the right
Atrioventricular Bundle- this group of cells runs from the AV
Node through the atrioventricular septum and then splits into two
major branches that run down the septum between the two
Purkinje Fibres B these specialized cells branch off of the AV
bundle at the apex of the heart and run up the walls of the heart.
All of these are autorhythmic
Autorhythmic cells, also called pacemaker cells, do not have a stable resting
membrane potential. They are constantly depolarizing and drift toward action
potential. These are called pacemaker potentials.
Pacemaker potential mechanismis still in dou+t, but it may be due to gradual
reduction of membrane permeability to K . Since Na permeability remains unchanged, it continues to diffuse slowly
into the cell.
The inner membrane becomes less negative (more positive) and eventually
threshold is reached
The fast 2+ channels open and it is the explosive influx of Ca that causes a
complete reversal of membrane potential.
This is illustrated in Figure 19.13.
The order of action potential of a heartbeat starts at the SA node AV NodeAV
The SA Node generates the action potential as it has the fastest rate of
It is the heart=s pacemaker. Its rhythm is called sinus rhythm. Average
sinus rhythm is about 75 beats per minute, but of course this is variable.
The action potential generated willthe spread to two places; the
gap junctions to the neighboring cells of atria (which in turn send to
their neighbors in the atria), and to the internodal pathways.
The internodal pathways quicklyconduct AP=s to the AV node.
The impulse is delayed momentarilywhich allows the atria complete their
contraction before the ventricle contracts.
The AV node has small diameter fibers and fewer gap junctions to allow
The impulse then goes to the AV Bundle (Bundle of His).
There are no gap junctions between cardiomyocytes of the atria and the
The AV Bundle is the only electrical connection between the atria and the
The AV bundle branches out into two paths that connect to the Purkinje Fibers.
Conduction along here is very rapid due to large fibers and a large number
of gap junctions, and allows the ventricles to contract as a unit.
Defects in the conduction system that cause irregular heart rhythms are called
Electrocardiography: An electrocardiogram, or ECG, is a diagnostic test that records electrical activity in the
heart. Placing electrodes on the surface of the body does this.
Standard, 12 Chest Leads is the most common ECG, three bipolar leads
(electrodes) on two arms and one leg, and nine chest leads are used.
ECG=s consist of three distinctive peaks or waves:
The first is a small peak called the P wave that is the result of the depolarization of
This is followed by the QRS complex. This is associated with the depolarization
of the ventricle and the repolarization of the atria which are occurring at the same
The third wave is the T wave. It is a small deflection associated with
repolarization of the ventricle.
The interval between the P wave and the QRS complex is called the P-R interval.
It represents the time is takes for the impulse to travel from the SA Node to the
AV node, through the penetrating fibers and down the AV Bundle and Purkinje
The interval between the QRS complex and the T wave is called the Q-T interval. It
represents the time it takes for the ventricle to contract and relax again.
The Cardiac Cycle:
Systole refers to contraction, or pushing blood out of the chambers.
Diastole refers to relaxation, or allowing chambers to fillup with blood.
Starting with the heart in mid to late diastole, the events on the left side are as
The atria and ventricles are relaxed. Blood enters the heart passivelyfrom
the veins due to blood pressure. It flows through the atria and into the