, Volume 348, Issue 2, pp 265-279,
Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

Cardiac telocytes — their junctions and functional implications

Abstract

Telocytes (TCs) form a cardiac network of interstitial cells. Our previous studies have shown that TCs are involved in heterocellular contacts with cardiomyocytes and cardiac stem/progenitor cells. In addition, TCs frequently establish ‘stromal synapses’ with several types of immunoreactive cells in various organs (www.telocytes.com). Using electron microscopy (EM) and electron microscope tomography (ET), we further investigated the interstitial cell network of TCs and found that TCs form ‘atypical’ junctions with virtually all types of cells in the human heart. EM and ET showed different junction types connecting TCs in a network (puncta adhaerentia minima, processus adhaerentes and manubria adhaerentia). The connections between TCs and cardiomyocytes are ‘dot’ junctions with nanocontacts or asymmetric junctions. Junctions between stem cells and TCs are either ‘stromal synapses’ or adhaerens junctions. An unexpected finding was that TCs have direct cell–cell (nano)contacts with Schwann cells, endothelial cells and pericytes. Therefore, ultrastructural analysis proved that the cardiac TC network could integrate the overall ‘information’ from vascular system (endothelial cells and pericytes), nervous system (Schwann cells), immune system (macrophages, mast cells), interstitium (fibroblasts, extracellular matrix), stem cells/progenitors and working cardiomyocytes. Generally, heterocellular contacts occur by means of minute junctions (point contacts, nanocontacts and planar contacts) and the mean intermembrane distance is within the macromolecular interaction range (10–30 nm). In conclusion, TCs make a network in the myocardial interstitium, which is involved in the long-distance intercellular signaling coordination. This integrated interstitial system appears to be composed of large homotropic zones (TC–TC junctions) and limited (distinct) heterotropic zones (heterocellular junctions of TCs).