The Bidomain Model of Cardiac Tissue: From Microscale to Macroscale

  • Craig S. Henriquez
  • Wenjun Ying

Cardiac tissue can be viewed as connected cells (myocytes), organized and tethered through an extracellular matrix to produce a contraction of the heart that is triggered by a highly coordinated spread of electrical activity. The currents underlying the propagation of impulses from cell to cell flow across the cell membrane and through both the intracellular and extracellular spaces in the heart. Over the past 30 years there has been considerable interest in the structures that couple the intracellular spaces of myocytes to one another and their role in arrhythmia.1,2 In cardiac tissue, this coupling takes place though the intercalated discs. The intercalated disc is an interwoven membrane separating adjacent cells and contains both adherens junctions, which anchor the contractile proteins and maintain mechanical strength during contraction, and gap junctions that permit small molecules and ions to pass freely between the cells.3 A gap junction is composed of two hemichannels (connexons), one in each cell, that come together and form a pore, which essentially establishes electrical connectivity.4,5 Under normal conditions, the propagation of action potentials involves both the flux of ions across voltage and ligand gated ion channels and from cell to cell. For the most part, the majority of the gap junctions are found at the ends of the irregularly shaped cardiac cells, although some appear at the lateral faces. The number of gap junctions between cells, in part, determines the strength of connection. It is widely believed that the more gap junctions present, the lower the electrical coupling resistance. These pores act like resistors in parallel in an electrical circuit. The type of proteins (connexins) that form the connexon also helps determine its electrical properties or conductance. Different connexin proteins are found in different regions of the heart.4

The other component of the intracellular resistance is determined by the micro- and nanostructures inside the cell itself. Like most muscle cells, most cardiac cells contain contractile proteins actin and myosin that are anchored by Z-lines. Ventricular mycotyes also possess a highly organized transverse-tubule (T-tubule) system. A T-tubule is a deep invagination of the plasma membrane that allows depolarization of the membrane to quickly penetrate to the interior of the cell. It effectively acts to bring the extracellular environment in proximity to the intracellular space of the cell.6 The presence of the T-tubules, proteins, and other structures will affect or limit ion mobility and flux and hence increase the intracellular resistance of the cell. In some heart cells (atrial cells, conduction system), however, the T-tubule system is less organized or effectively absent, and hence the electrical properties of these cells are expectedly different.6


Boundary Value Problem Extracellular Space Cardiac Tissue Intracellular Space Conductivity Tensor 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Craig S. Henriquez
    • 1
  • Wenjun Ying
    • 2
  1. 1.Duke UniversityDurhamUSA
  2. 2.Department of Biomedical EngineeringDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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