Key points


The cellular basis of cardiac pacemaking is still debated. Reliable computational models of the sinoatrial node (SAN) action potential (AP) may help gain a deeper understanding of the phenomenon. Recently, novel models incorporating detailed Ca2+-handling dynamics have been proposed, but they fail to reproduce a number of experimental data, and more specifically effects of ‘funny' (If) current modifications. We therefore developed a SAN AP model, based on available experimental data, in an attempt to reproduce physiological and pharmacological heart rate modulation. Cell compartmentalization and intracellular Ca2+-handling mechanisms were formulated as in the Maltsev–Lakatta model, focusing on Ca2+-cycling processes. Membrane current equations were revised on the basis of published experimental data. Modifications of the formulation of currents/pumps/exchangers to simulate If blockers, autonomic modulators and Ca2+-dependent mechanisms (ivabradine, caesium, acetylcholine, isoprenaline, BAPTA) were derived from experimental data. The model generates AP waveforms typical of rabbit SAN cells, whose parameters fall within the experimental ranges: 352 ms cycle length, 80 mV AP amplitude, -58 mV maximum diastolic potential (MDP), 108 ms APD50, and 7.1 V s-1 maximum upstroke velocity. Rate modulation by If-blocking drugs agrees with experimental findings: 20% and 22% caesium-induced (5 mM) and ivabradine-induced (3 µM) rate reductions, respectively, due to changes in diastolic depolarization (DD) slope, with no changes in either MDP or take-off potential (TOP). The model consistently reproduces the effects of autonomic modulation: 20% rate decrease with 10 nMacetylcholine and 28% increase with 1 µM isoprenaline, again entirely due to increase in the DD slope, with no changes in either MDP or TOP. Model testing of BAPTA effects showed slowing of rate, -26%, without cessation of beating. Our up-to-date model describes satisfactorily experimental data concerning autonomic stimulation, funny-channel blockade and inhibition of the Ca2+-related system by BAPTA, making it a useful tool for further investigation. Simulation results suggest that a detailed description of the intracellular Ca2+fluxes is fully compatible with the observation that If is a major component of pacemaking and rate modulation.