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The heart: digital or analog? VTCRI researchers shed dramatic new light on disorders of heart bioelectricity

August 27th, 2018

Heart muscle cells
An image from a super resolution microscope shows molecules occupying a tiny space between heart muscle cells. In green are gap junction molecules, which provide a low-resistance path for electrical conductivity. Molecules in red are sodium channel beta molecules, which help conduct electricity and glue. – as Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute scientists discovered – cooperatively activating sodium channels together, contributing to spread electrical excitation through heart muscle. Researchers hope to target this structure to develop anti-arrhythmic therapies for heart ailments.

Scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute (VTCRI) have found evidence that may disrupt conventional understanding about how electrical activity travels in the heart — a discovery that potentially can lead to new insight into medical problems, such as heart arrhythmia and sudden cardiac death.

The research study, now online but scheduled to appear as a final version on Sept. 4 in the journal eLife, may inform the development of new classes of drugs to treat heart rhythm disorders, which occur when someone’s heart beats too quickly, slowly, or irregularly.

Led by Rob Gourdie, a professor at VTCRI, the international team of scientists revealed how electrical impulses might travel through heart muscle in steps, jumping between cells in a rapid, almost on-off fashion, like a digital wave, rather than through a smooth, continuous flow of current, like an analog wave.

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