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Cardiac myocytes and fibroblasts form extensive networks in the heart, with numerous anatomical contacts between cells. Fibroblasts, obligatory components of the extracellular matrix, represent the majority of cells in the normal heart, and their number increases with aging and during disease. The myocyte network, coupled by gap junctions, is generally believed to be electrically isolated from fibroblasts in vivo. In culture, however, the heterogeneous cell types form functional gap junctions, which can provide a substrate for electrical coupling of distant myocytes, interconnected by fibroblasts only. Whether similar behavior occurs in vivo has been the subject of considerable debate. Recent electrophysiological, immunohistochemical, and dye-coupling data confirmed the presence of direct electrical coupling between the two cell types in normal cardiac tissue (sinoatrial node), and it has been suggested that similar interactions may occur in post-infarct scar tissue. Such heterogeneous cell coupling could have major implications on in vivo electrical impulse conduction and the transport of small molecules or ions in both the normal and pathological myocardium. This review illustrates that it would be wrong to adhere to a scenario of functional integration of the heart that does not allow for a potential active contribution of non-myocytes to cardiac electrophysiology, and proposes to focus further research on the relevance of non-myocytes for cardiac structure and function.

Original publication

DOI

10.1159/000092566

Type

Journal article

Journal

Adv Cardiol

Publication Date

2006

Volume

42

Pages

132 - 149

Keywords

Animals, Cells, Cultured, Fibroblasts, Gap Junctions, Heart, Humans, Immunohistochemistry, Microscopy, Confocal, Myocytes, Cardiac, Sinoatrial Node