Editors' ChoiceBiophysics

Mechanical coupling of heart cells

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Science  02 Sep 2016:
Vol. 353, Issue 6303, pp. 1001-1002
DOI: 10.1126/science.353.6303.1001-d

Myocytes in adult hearts control the heartbeat through electrical signaling, which propagates contractions to neighboring cells. However, Chiou et al. now report that the developing heart may use mechanical coupling between myocytes instead. The authors were able to explain the behavior of embryonic hearts with a model that considers myocytes as mechanically excitable cells that contract when exposed to a sufficient strain. Moreover, blocking ion exchange in hearts from chicken embryos did not prevent coordinated beating. Thus, the authors propose that the heart's first beats reveal a second mechanism for coordination that could be relevant to the development of stem cell–based therapies for damaged heart tissue.

Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 10.1073/pnas.1600362113 (2016).

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