Electrical Stimulation of Artificial Heart Muscle: A Look Into the Electrophysiologic and Genetic Implications

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Development of tissue-engineered hearts for treatment of myocardial infarction or biologic pacemakers has been hindered by the production of mostly arrhythmic or in-synergistic constructs. Electrical stimulation (ES) of these constructs has been shown to produce tissues with greater twitch force and better adrenergic response. To further our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the effect of ES, we fabricated a bioreactor capable of delivering continuous or intermittent waveforms of various types to multiple constructs simultaneously. In this study, we examined the effect of an intermittent biphasic square wave on our artificial heart muscle (AHM) composed of neonatal rat cardiac cells and fibrin gel. Twitch forces, spontaneous contraction rates, biopotentials, gene expression profiles, and histologic observations were examined for the ES protocol over a 12 day culture period. We demonstrate improved consistency between samples for twitch force and contraction rate, and higher normalized twitch force amplitudes for electrically stimulated AHMs. Improvements in electrophysiology within the AHM were noted by higher conduction velocities and lower latency in electrical response for electrically stimulated AHMs. Genes expressing key electrophysiologic and structural markers peaked at days 6 and 8 of culture, only a few days after the initiation of ES. These results may be used for optimization strategies to establish protocols for producing AHMs capable of replacing damaged heart tissue in either a contractile or electrophysiologic capacity. Optimized AHMs can lead to alternative treatments to heart failure and alleviate the limited donor supply crisis.

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