Ultrastructure of cardiac muscle in reptiles and birds: optimizing and/or reducing the probability of transmission between calcium release units
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It is known that cardiac myocytes contain three categories of calcium release units (CRUs) all bearing arrays of RyR2: peripheral couplings, constituted of an association of the junctional SR (jSR) with the plasmalemma; dyads, associations between jSR and T tubules; internal extended junctional jSR (EjSR)/corbular jSR that is not associated with plasmalemma/T tubules. The bird hearts, even if fast beating (e.g., in finch and hummingbird) have no T tubules, despite fiber sizes comparable to those of mammalian ventricle, but are rich in EjSR/corbular SR. The heart of small lizard also lacks T tubule, but it has only peripheral couplings and compensates for lack of internal CRUs by the small diameter of its cells. We have extended previous information on chicken heart to finch and lizard by establishing a spatial relationship between RyR2 clusters in jSR of peripheral couplings and clusters of intra-membrane particles identifiable as voltage sensitive calcium channels (CaV1.2) in the adjacent plasmalemma. This provides the structural basis for initiation of the heart beat in all three species. Further we evaluated the distances separating peripheral couplings from each other and between EjSR/corbular SR sites within the bird muscles in all three hearts. The distances suggest that peripheral coupling sites are most likely to act independently of each other and that a calcium wave-front propagation from one internal CRU site to the other across the level of the Z line, may be marginally successful in the chicken, but certainly very effective in the finch.