Nanoscale imaging of rat atrial myocytes by scanning ion conductance microscopy reveals heterogeneity of T-tubule openings and ultrastructure of the cell membrane
In contrast to ventricular myocytes, the structural and functional importance of atrial transverse tubules (T-tubules) is not fully understood. Therefore, we investigated the ultrastructure of T-tubules of living rat atrial myocytes in comparison with ventricular myocytes. Nanoscale cell surface imaging by scanning ion conductance microscopy (SICM) was accompanied by confocal imaging of intracellular T-tubule network, and the effect of removal of T-tubules on atrial excitation-contraction coupling (EC-coupling) was observed. By SICM imaging, we classified atrial cell surface into 4 subtypes. About 38% of atrial myocytes had smooth cell surface with no clear T-tubule openings and intracellular T-tubules (smooth-type). In 33% of cells, we found a novel membrane nanostructure running in the direction of cell length and named it longitudinal fissures (LFs-type). Interestingly, T-tubule openings were often found inside the LFs. About 17% of atrial cells resembled ventricular myocytes, but they had smaller T-tubule openings and a lower Z-groove ratio than the ventricle (ventricular-type). The remaining 12% of cells showed a mixed structure of each subtype (mixed-type). The LFs-, ventricular-, and mixed-type had an appreciable amount of reticular form of intracellular T-tubules. Formamide-induced detubulation effectively removed atrial T-tubules, which was confirmed by both confocal images and decreased cell capacitance. However, the LFs remained intact after detubulation. Detubulation reduced action potential duration and L-type Ca2+ channel (LTCC) density, and prolonged relaxation time of the myocytes. Taken together, we observed heterogeneity of rat atrial T-tubules and membranous ultrastructure, and the alteration of atrial EC-coupling by disruption of T-tubules.
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