Vagal control of heart rate is modulated by extracellular potassium.
Sears CE., Noble P., Noble D., Paterson DJ.
Heart rate (HR) recovery from heavy exercise is associated with a shift in cardiac sympatho-vagal balance and a transient hypokalaemia. Since changes in extracellular potassium ([K+]0) affect membrane currents in the sino-atrial node, in particular the acetylcholine-activated potassium current (I(K,ACh)), the hyperpolarization-activated current (I(f)) and the L-type calcium current (I(Ca,L)), we investigated whether mimicking [K+]0 concentrations seen during and immediately after exercise could directly modulate the HR response to vagal nerve stimulation (VNS) in the isolated guinea-pig atria preparation pre-stimulated with noradrenaline (NA, 1 microM). Lowering [K+]0 from 4 to 3 mM significantly enhanced the HR response to VNS (5 Hz, 5 V, 30 s, deltaHR 84.5 +/- 14.1 bpm and 119.3 +/- 18.2 bpm, respectively). Increasing [K+]0 to 8 or 10 mM significantly decreased the drop in HR with VNS in comparison to the response to 3 mM K+ Tyrode (deltaHR 56.4 +/- 9.1 bpm and 52.1 +/- 8.7 bpm, respectively). These results could be simulated using the OXSOFT heart sino-atrial node computer model by activating I(K,ACh) during changes in [K+]0. However, changing [K+]0 in the model had no significant effect on the decrease in beating frequency brought about by decreasing I(f) or I(Ca,L). We conclude that the magnitude of the decrease in HR with VNS is enhanced in low [K +]0 and reduced in high [K+]0. The increased efficacy of cardiac vagal activation in low [K+]0 might therefore facilitate the drop in HR after heavy exercise where there is a transient hypokalaemia. Modelling suggests this result may be explained by the effects of changes in [K+]0 on the current-voltage relationship for I(K,ACh).