Ryanodine receptors (RyRs) mediate calcium (Ca)-induced Ca release and intracellular Ca homeostasis. In a cardiac myocyte, RyRs group into clusters of variable size from a few to several hundred RyRs, creating a spatially nonuniform intracellular distribution. It is unclear how heterogeneity of RyR cluster size alters spontaneous sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca releases (Ca sparks) and arrhythmogenic Ca waves. Here, we tested the impact of heterogeneous RyR cluster size on the initiation of Ca waves. Experimentally, we measured RyR cluster sizes at Ca spark sites in rat ventricular myocytes and further tested functional impacts using a physiologically detailed computational model with spatial and stochastic intracellular Ca dynamics. We found that the spark frequency and amplitude increase nonlinearly with the size of RyR clusters. Larger RyR clusters have lower SR Ca release threshold for local Ca spark initiation and exhibit steeper SR Ca release versus SR Ca load relationship. However, larger RyR clusters tend to lower SR Ca load because of the higher Ca leak rate. Conversely, smaller clusters have a higher threshold and a lower leak, which tends to increase SR Ca load. At the myocyte level, homogeneously large or small RyR clusters limit Ca waves (because of low load for large clusters but low excitability for small clusters). Mixtures of large and small RyR clusters potentiates Ca waves because the enhanced SR Ca load driven by smaller clusters enables Ca wave initiation and propagation from larger RyR clusters. Our study suggests that a spatially heterogeneous distribution of RyR cluster size under pathological conditions may potentiate Ca waves and thus afterdepolarizations and triggered arrhythmias.
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