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The heart is structurally and functionally a highly non-homogenous organ, yet its main function as a pump can only be achieved by the co-ordinated contraction of millions of ventricular cells. This apparent contradiction gives rise to the hypothesis that 'well-organised' inhomogeneity may be a pre-requisite for normal cardiac function. Here, we present a set of novel experimental and theoretical tools for the study of this concept. Heterogeneity, in its most condensed form, can be simulated using two individually controlled, mechanically interacting elements (duplex). We have developed and characterised three different types of duplexes: (i) biological duplex, consisting of two individually perfused biological samples (like thin papillary muscles or a trabeculae), (ii) virtual duplex, made-up of two interacting mathematical models of cardiac muscle, and (iii) hybrid duplex, containing a biological sample that interacts in real-time with a virtual muscle. In all three duplex types, in-series or in-parallel mechanical interaction of elements can be studied during externally isotonic, externally isometric, and auxotonic modes of contraction and relaxation. Duplex models, therefore, mimic (patho-)physiological mechano-electric interactions in heterogeneous myocardium at the multicellular level, and in an environment that allows one to control mechanical, electrical and pharmacological parameters. Results obtained using the duplex method show that: (i) contractile elements in heterogeneous myocardium are not 'independent' generators of tension/shortening, as their ino- and lusitropic characteristics change dynamically during mechanical interaction-potentially matching microscopic contractility to macroscopic demand, (ii) mechanical heterogeneity contributes differently to action potential duration (APD) changes, depending on whether mechanical coupling of elements is in-parallel or in-series, which may play a role in mechanical tuning of distant tissue regions, (iii) electro-mechanical activity of mechanically interacting contractile elements is affected by their activation sequence, which may optimise myocardial performance by smoothing intrinsic differences in APD. In conclusion, we present a novel set of tools for the experimental and theoretical investigation of cardiac mechano-electric interactions in healthy and/or diseased heterogeneous myocardium, which allows for the testing of previously inaccessible concepts.

Original publication




Journal article


Prog Biophys Mol Biol

Publication Date





207 - 220


Animals, Electrophysiology, Heart, Heart Conduction System, Humans, Models, Cardiovascular, Models, Theoretical, Myocardium, Time Factors