The initiation of the heart beat

Peng Sheng Chen*, Boyoung Joung, Tetsuji Shinohara, Mithilesh Das, Zhenhui Chen, Shien-Fong Lin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

37 Scopus citations


During a normal lifetime, the heart may beat over 2 billion times, but the mechanisms by which the heart beats are initiated remain a subject of intense investigation. Since the discovery of a pacemaker current (If ) in 1978, multiple studies have shown that rhythmic changes in membrane voltage (the "membrane voltage clock") underlie the mechanisms of automaticity. The If is a depolarization current activated during hyperpolarization. Therefore, when the cardiac cells recover, the If is activated and slowly depolarizes the cell membrane, leading to the onset of action potential. Recent studies, however, suggest that increased intracellular Ca (Cai) induced by spontaneous rhythmic sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca release (the "calcium clock") is also jointly responsible for the initiation of the heart beat. Elevated Cai activates another ionic current (the sodium-calcium exchanger current or INCX), leading to spontaneous phase 4 depolarization. Under normal conditions, both clocks are needed to initiate the heart beat. Malfunction of the clocks is associated with sinus node dysfunction in heart failure and atrial fibrillation. More studies are needed to determine how both clocks work together to initiate heart beat under normal and disease conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)221-225
Number of pages5
JournalCirculation Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2010


  • Electrophysiology
  • Sick sinus syndrome
  • Sinoatrial node


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