Increasing SERCA function promotes initiation of calcium sparks and breakup of calcium waves

Daisuke Sato, Hitoshi Uchinoumi, Donald M. Bers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Key points: Increasing sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticulum calcium ATPase (SERCA) pump activity enhances sarcoplasmic reticulum calcium (Ca) load, which increases both ryanodine receptor opening and driving force of Ca release flux. Both of these effects promote Ca spark formation and wave propagation. However, increasing SERCA activity also accelerates local cytosolic Ca decay as the wave front travels to the next cluster, which limits wave propagation. As a result, increasing SERCA pump activity has a biphasic effect on the propensity of arrhythmogenic Ca waves, but a monotonic effect to increase Ca spark frequency and amplitude. Abstract: Waves of sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) calcium (Ca) release can cause arrhythmogenic afterdepolarizations in cardiac myocytes. Ca waves propagate when Ca sparks at one Ca release unit (CRU) recruit new Ca sparks in neighbouring CRUs. Under normal conditions, Ca sparks are too small to recruit neighbouring Ca sparks where Ca sensitivity is also low. However, under pathological conditions such as a Ca overload or ryanodine receptor (RyR) sensitization, Ca sparks can be larger and propagate more readily as macro-sparks or full Ca waves. Increasing SERCA pump activity promotes SR Ca load, which promotes RyR opening and increases driving force of the Ca release flux from SR to cytosol, promoting Ca waves. However, high sarcoplasmic/endoplasmic reticulum calcium ATPase (SERCA) activity can also decrease local cytosolic [Ca] as it approaches the next CRU, thereby reducing wave appearance and propagation. In this study, we use a physiologically detailed model of subcellular Ca cycling and experiments in phospholamban-knockout mice, to show how Ca waves are initiated and propagate and how different conditions contribute to the generation and propagation of Ca waves. We show that reducing diffusive coupling between Ca sparks by increasing SERCA activity prevents Ca waves by reducing [Ca] at the next CRU, as do Ca buffers, low intra-SR Ca diffusion and distance between CRUs. Increasing SR Ca uptake rate has a biphasic effect on Ca wave propagation; initially it enhances Ca spark probability and amplitude and CRU coupling, thereby promoting arrhythmogenic Ca wave propagation, but at higher levels SR Ca uptake can abort those arrhythmogenic Ca waves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Physiology
StateAccepted/In press - 2021


  • calcium buffer
  • calcium spark
  • calcium wave
  • ryanodine receptor
  • sarcoplasmic reticulum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology


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