Introduction: Sex differences in β-adrenergic receptor (β-AR) responsiveness are associated with female cardioprotection. We hypothesize that female (F) rabbits have reduced responsiveness to β-AR stimulation vs males (M), and that the degree and type of sex differences vary with the β-AR subtypes that are activated.
Methods: Ventricular action potentials (AP) and intracellular calcium transients (CaT) were optically mapped from the epicardial surface of rabbit hearts during 3 Hz pacing. Spontaneous calcium release (SCR) and ectopic activity were elicited at 1, 3, and 5.5 Hz. β-responsiveness was assessed with the nonselective β-agonist isoproterenol (Iso, 1-316 nM), or β2-AR selective agonist zinterol (Zin, 10 nM).
Results: At baseline, the time constant of CaT decay (τ) was faster in F than M (54.0±1.7 vs 62.1±3.0 ms; n=14, 14; p < 0.05), with no sex difference in CaT duration (CaD80). AP duration (APD90) was shorter in F than M (202.5±5.0 vs 218.2±5.7 ms; p < 0.05). Iso decreased τ, CaD80, and APD90 in a dose-dependent manner in both sexes (n = 5, 5 for F, M). Iso decreased τ to a lesser extent in F than M for 1 and 32-316 nM Iso (F = 11-32 ms, M = 23-48 ms; p < 0.05). The Iso-induced decrease in CaD80 was not significantly different in F than M at any dose. The Iso-induced decrease in APD90 was significantly less in F than M only at 316 nM Iso (75.5±8.7 ms vs 103.9±6.2 ms, p < 0.05). In contrast, there were no sex differences in the response to Zin for τ, CaD80, or APD90 (n = 6, 6 for F, M). Zin decreased τ by 7.2±2.0 ms in F vs 12.7±3.7 ms in M; CaD80 by 18.0±5.3% in F vs 21.1±8.0 ms in M; and APD90 by 24.9±8.5 ms in F vs 21.9±8.9 ms in M. SCR was observed in 50% (6/12) of hearts treated with Zin, whereas Iso elicited SCR in all hearts (10/10) with a dose threshold of 32 nM. No ectopic beats were observed with Zin (0/36 trials in 12 hearts). With Iso, ectopic activity was less frequent in F hearts (16%, 12/75 trials in 5 hearts) than in M hearts (41%, 26/68 trials in 5 hearts, p < 0.05).
Conclusions: These results suggest that sex differences in AP and CaT depend on the dose of the agonist used and the β-AR subtypes that are activated. Elucidating nuances of sex differences in β-AR subtype physiology will provide a better understanding of the mechanisms of reduced β-responsiveness in F and its cardioprotective effects.