The heart is a rhythmic electromechanical pump, the functioning of which depends on action potential generation and propagation, followed by relaxation and a period of refractoriness until the next impulse is generated. Myocardial action potentials reflect the sequential activation and inactivation of inward (Na+ and Ca2+) and outward (K+) current carrying ion channels. In different regions of the heart, action potential waveforms are distinct, owing to differences in Na+, Ca2+, and K+ channel expression, and these differences contribute to the normal, unidirectional propagation of activity and to the generation of normal cardiac rhythms. Changes in channel functioning, resulting from inherited or acquired disease, affect action potential repolarization and can lead to the generation of life-threatening arrhythmias. There is, therefore, considerable interest in understanding the mechanisms that control cardiac repolarization and rhythm generation. Electrophysiological studies have detailed the properties of the Na+, Ca2+, and K+ currents that generate cardiac action potentials, and molecular cloning has revealed a large number of pore forming (α) and accessory (β, δ, and γ) subunits thought to contribute to the formation of these channels. Considerable progress has been made in defining the functional roles of the various channels and in identifying the α-subunits encoding these channels. Much less is known, however, about the functioning of channel accessory subunits and/or posttranslational processing of the channel proteins. It has also become clear that cardiac ion channels function as components of macromolecular complexes, comprising the α-subunits, one or more accessory subunit, and a variety of other regulatory proteins. In addition, these macromolecular channel protein complexes appear to interact with the actin cytoskeleton and/or the extracellular matrix, suggesting important functional links between channel complexes, as well as between cardiac structure and electrical functioning. Important areas of future research will be the identification of (all of) the molecular components of functional cardiac ion channels and delineation of the molecular mechanisms involved in regulating the expression and the functioning of these channels in the normal and the diseased myocardium.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1205-1253
Number of pages49
JournalPhysiological reviews
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2005


Dive into the research topics of 'Molecular physiology of cardiac repolarization'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this