Journal of Physiology

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Branching patterns emerge in a mathematical model of the dynamics of lung development

22 January 2014

Recent experimental work has described an elegant pattern of branching in the development of the lung. Multiple forms of branching have been identified, including side branching and tip bifurcation. A particularly interesting feature is the phenomenon of ‘orthogonal rotation of the branching plane’. The lung must fill 3D space with the essentially 2D phenomenon of branching. It accomplishes this by rotating the branching plane by 90° with each generation. The mechanisms underlying this rotation are not understood. In general, the programmes that underlie branching have been hypothetically attributed to genetic ‘subroutines’ under the control of a ‘global master routine’ to invoke particular subroutines at the proper time and location, but the mechanisms of these routines are not known. Here, we demonstrate that fundamental mechanisms, the reaction and diffusion of biochemical morphogens, can create these patterns. We used a partial differential equation model that postulates three morphogens, which we identify with specific molecules in lung development. We found that cascades of branching events, including side branching, tip splitting and orthogonal rotation of the branching plane, all emerge immediately from the model, without further assumptions. In addition, we found that one branching mode can be easily switched to another, by increasing or decreasing the values of key parameters. This shows how a ‘global master routine’ could work by the alteration of a single parameter. Being able to simulate cascades of branching events is necessary to understand the critical features of branching, such as orthogonal rotation of the branching plane between successive generations, and branching mode switch during lung development. Thus, our model provides a paradigm for how genes could possibly act to produce these spatial structures. Our low-dimensional model gives a qualitative understanding of how generic physiological mechanisms can produce branching phenomena, and how the system can switch from one branching pattern to another using low-dimensional ‘control knobs’. The model provides a number of testable predictions, some of which have already been observed (though not explained) in experimental work.

Image-based assessment of microvascular function and structure in collagen XV- and XVIII-deficient mice

22 January 2014

Collagen XV and XVIII are ubiquitous constituents of basement membranes. We aimed to study the physiological roles of these two components of the permeability barrier non-invasively in striated muscle in mice deficient in collagen XV or XVIII by dynamic contrast-enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (DCE-MRI). Structural information was obtained with transmission electron microscopy (TEM). MR data were analysed by two different analysis methods to quantify tissue perfusion and microcirculatory exchange parameters to rule out data analysis method-dependent results. Control mice (C57BL/6J Ola/Hsd strain) or mice lacking either collagen XV (Col15a1–/–) or XVIII (Col18a1–/–) were included in the study. MR images were acquired using a preclinical system using gadodiamide (Gd-DTPA-BMA, molecular weight 0.58 kDa) as a tracer. Exchange capacity (permeability (P)–surface area (S) product relative to blood flow (FB)) was increased in test mice compared to controls, but the contributions from P, S, and FB were different in these two phenotypes. FB was significantly increased in Col18a1–/–, but slightly decreased in Col15a1–/–. PS was significantly increased only in Col18a1–/– even though P was increased in both phenotypes suggesting S might also be reduced in Col15a1–/– mice. Immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy demonstrated alterations in capillary density and morphology in both knockout mouse strains in comparison to the control mice. Both collagen XV and XVIII are important for maintaining normal capillary permeability in the striated muscle. DCE-MRI and the perfusion analyses successfully determined microvascular haemodynamic parameters of genetically modified mice and gave results consistent with more invasive methods.

Positron emission tomography detects greater blood flow and less blood flow heterogeneity in the exercising skeletal muscles of old compared with young men during fatiguing contractions

22 January 2014

The purpose of this study was to investigate blood flow and its heterogeneity within and among the knee muscles in five young (26 ± 6 years) and five old (77 ± 6 years) healthy men with similar levels of physical activity while they performed two types of submaximal fatiguing isometric contraction that required either force or position control. Positron emission tomography (PET) and [15O]-H2O were used to determine blood flow at 2 min (beginning) and 12 min (end) after the start of the tasks. Young and old men had similar maximal forces and endurance times for the fatiguing tasks. Although muscle volumes were lower in the older subjects, total muscle blood flow was similar in both groups (young men: 25.8 ± 12.6 ml min–1; old men: 25.1 ± 15.4 ml min–1; age main effect, P = 0.77) as blood flow per unit mass of muscle in the exercising knee extensors was greater in the older (12.5 ± 6.2 ml min–1 (100 g)–1) than the younger (8.6 ± 3.6 ml min–1 (100 g)–1) men (age main effect, P = 0.001). Further, blood flow heterogeneity in the exercising knee extensors was significantly lower in the older (56 ± 27%) than the younger (67 ± 34%) men. Together, these data show that although skeletal muscles are smaller in older subjects, based on the intact neural drive to the muscle and the greater, less heterogeneous blood flow per gram of muscle, old fit muscle achieves adequate exercise hyperaemia.

Acute exercise and physiological insulin induce distinct phosphorylation signatures on TBC1D1 and TBC1D4 proteins in human skeletal muscle

22 January 2014

We investigated the phosphorylation signatures of two Rab-GTPase activating proteins TBC1D1 and TBC1D4 in human skeletal muscle in response to physical exercise and physiological insulin levels induced by a carbohydrate rich meal using a paired experimental design. Eight healthy male volunteers exercised in the fasted or fed state and muscle biopsies were taken before and immediately after exercise. We identified TBC1D1/4 phospho-sites that (1) did not respond to exercise or postprandial increase in insulin (TBC1D4: S666), (2) responded to insulin only (TBC1D4: S318), (3) responded to exercise only (TBC1D1: S237, S660, S700; TBC1D4: S588, S751), and (4) responded to both insulin and exercise (TBC1D1: T596; TBC1D4: S341, T642, S704). In the insulin-stimulated leg, Akt phosphorylation of both T308 and S473 correlated significantly with multiple sites on both TBC1D1 (T596) and TBC1D4 (S318, S341, S704). Interestingly, in the exercised leg in the fasted state TBC1D1 phosphorylation (S237, T596) correlated significantly with the activity of the α2/β2/3 AMPK trimer, whereas TBC1D4 phosphorylation (S341, S704) correlated with the activity of the α2/β2/1 AMPK trimer. Our data show differential phosphorylation of TBC1D1 and TBC1D4 in response to physiological stimuli in human skeletal muscle and support the idea that Akt and AMPK are upstream kinases. TBC1D1 phosphorylation signatures were comparable between in vitro contracted mouse skeletal muscle and exercised human muscle, and we show that AMPK regulated phosphorylation of these sites in mouse muscle. Contraction and exercise elicited a different phosphorylation pattern of TBC1D4 in mouse compared with human muscle, and although different circumstances in our experimental setup may contribute to this difference, the observation exemplifies that transferring findings between species is problematic.

Maximal heart rate does not limit cardiovascular capacity in healthy humans: insight from right atrial pacing during maximal exercise

22 January 2014

In humans, maximal aerobic power (VO2 max ) is associated with a plateau in cardiac output (Q), but the mechanisms regulating the interplay between maximal heart rate (HRmax) and stroke volume (SV) are unclear. To evaluate the effect of tachycardia and elevations in HRmax on cardiovascular function and capacity during maximal exercise in healthy humans, 12 young male cyclists performed incremental cycling and one-legged knee-extensor exercise (KEE) to exhaustion with and without right atrial pacing to increase HR. During control cycling, Q and leg blood flow increased up to 85% of maximal workload (WLmax) and remained unchanged until exhaustion. SV initially increased, plateaued and then decreased before exhaustion (P < 0.05) despite an increase in right atrial pressure (RAP) and a tendency (P = 0.056) for a reduction in left ventricular transmural filling pressure (LVFP). Atrial pacing increased HRmax from 184 ± 2 to 206 ± 3 beats min–1 (P < 0.05), but Q remained similar to the control condition at all intensities because of a lower SV and LVFP (P < 0.05). No differences in arterial pressure, peripheral haemodynamics, catecholamines or VO2 were observed, but pacing increased the rate pressure product and RAP (P < 0.05). Atrial pacing had a similar effect on haemodynamics during KEE, except that pacing decreased RAP. In conclusion, the human heart can be paced to a higher HR than observed during maximal exercise, suggesting that HRmax and myocardial work capacity do not limit VO2 max in healthy individuals. A limited left ventricular filling and possibly altered contractility reduce SV during atrial pacing, whereas a plateau in LVFP appears to restrict Q close to VO2 max .

Carotid body denervation improves autonomic and cardiac function and attenuates disordered breathing in congestive heart failure

22 January 2014

In congestive heart failure (CHF), carotid body (CB) chemoreceptor activity is enhanced and is associated with oscillatory (Cheyne–Stokes) breathing patterns, increased sympathetic nerve activity (SNA) and increased arrhythmia incidence. We hypothesized that denervation of the CB (CBD) chemoreceptors would reduce SNA, reduce apnoea and arrhythmia incidence and improve ventricular function in pacing-induced CHF rabbits. Resting breathing, renal SNA (RSNA) and arrhythmia incidence were measured in three groups of animals: (1) sham CHF/sham–CBD (sham–sham); (2) CHF/sham–CBD (CHF–sham); and (3) CHF/CBD (CHF–CBD). Chemoreflex sensitivity was measured as the RSNA and minute ventilatory (VE) responses to hypoxia and hypercapnia. Respiratory pattern was measured by plethysmography and quantified by an apnoea–hypopnoea index, respiratory rate variability index and the coefficient of variation of tidal volume. Sympatho-respiratory coupling (SRC) was assessed using power spectral analysis and the magnitude of the peak coherence function between tidal volume and RSNA frequency spectra. Arrhythmia incidence and low frequency/high frequency ratio of heart rate variability were assessed using ECG and blood pressure waveforms, respectively. RSNA and VE responses to hypoxia were augmented in CHF–sham and abolished in CHF–CBD animals. Resting RSNA was greater in CHF–sham compared to sham–sham animals (43 ± 5% max vs. 23 ± 2% max, P < 0.05), and this increase was not found in CHF–CBD animals (25 ± 1% max, P < 0.05 vs. CHF–sham). Low frequency/high frequency heart rate variability ratio was similarly increased in CHF and reduced by CBD (P < 0.05). Respiratory rate variability index, coefficient of variation of tidal volume and apnoea–hypopnoea index were increased in CHF–sham animals and reduced in CHF–CBD animals (P < 0.05). SRC (peak coherence) was increased in CHF–sham animals (sham–sham 0.49 ± 0.05; CHF–sham 0.79 ± 0.06), and was attenuated in CHF–CBD animals (0.59 ± 0.05) (P < 0.05 for all comparisons). Arrhythmia incidence was increased in CHF–sham and reduced in CHF–CBD animals (213 ± 58 events h–1 CHF, 108 ± 48 events h–1 CHF–CBD, P < 0.05). Furthermore, ventricular systolic (3.8 ± 0.7 vs. 6.3 ± 0.5 ml, P < 0.05) and diastolic (6.3 ± 1.0 vs. 9.1 ± 0.5 ml, P < 0.05) volumes were reduced, and ejection fraction preserved (41 ± 5% vs. 54 ± 2% reduction from pre-pace, P < 0.05) in CHF–CBD compared to CHF–sham rabbits. Similar patterns of changes were observed longitudinally within the CHF–CBD group before and after CBD. In conclusion, CBD is effective in reducing RSNA, SRC and arrhythmia incidence, while improving breathing stability and cardiac function in pacing-induced CHF rabbits.

The coupling of plasma membrane calcium entry to calcium uptake by endoplasmic reticulum and mitochondria

22 January 2014

Cross-talk between organelles and plasma membrane Ca2+ channels is essential for modulation of the cytosolic Ca2+ ([Ca2+]C) signals, but such modulation may differ among cells. In chromaffin cells Ca2+ entry through voltage-operated channels induces calcium release from the endoplasmic reticulum (ER) that amplifies the signal. [Ca2+]C microdomains as high as 20–50 μm are sensed by subplasmalemmal mitochondria, which accumulate large amounts of Ca2+ through the mitochondrial Ca2+ uniporter (MCU). Mitochondria confine the high-Ca2+ microdomains (HCMDs) to beneath the plasma membrane, where exocytosis of secretory vesicles happens. Cell core [Ca2+]C is much smaller (1–2 μm). By acting as a Ca2+ sink, mitochondria stabilise the HCMD in space and time. In non-excitable HEK293 cells, activation of store-operated Ca2+ entry, triggered by ER Ca2+ emptying, also generated subplasmalemmal HCMDs, but, in this case, most of the Ca2+ was taken up by the ER rather than by mitochondria. The smaller size of the [Ca2+]C peak in this case (about 2 μm) may contribute to this outcome, as the sarco-endoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ ATPase has much higher Ca2+ affinity than MCU. It is also possible that the relative positioning of organelles, channels and effectors, as well as cytoskeleton and accessory proteins plays an important role.

The role of Ca2+ in the pathophysiology of pancreatitis

22 January 2014

Acute pancreatitis is a human disease in which the pancreatic pro-enzymes, packaged into the zymogen granules of acinar cells, become activated and cause autodigestion. The main causes of pancreatitis are alcohol abuse and biliary disease. A considerable body of evidence indicates that the primary event initiating the disease process is the excessive release of Ca2+ from intracellular stores, followed by excessive entry of Ca2+ from the interstitial fluid. However, Ca2+ release and subsequent entry are also precisely the processes that control the physiological secretion of digestive enzymes in response to stimulation via the vagal nerve or the hormone cholecystokinin. The spatial and temporal Ca2+ signal patterns in physiology and pathology, as well as the contributions from different organelles in the different situations, are therefore critical issues. There has recently been significant progress in our understanding of both physiological stimulus–secretion coupling and the pathophysiology of acute pancreatitis. Very recently, a promising potential therapeutic development has occurred with the demonstration that the blockade of Ca2+ release-activated Ca2+ currents in pancreatic acinar cells offers remarkable protection against Ca2+ overload, intracellular protease activation and necrosis evoked by a combination of alcohol and fatty acids, which is a major trigger of acute pancreatitis.

Calcium regulation of neural rhythms, memory and Alzheimer's disease

22 January 2014

Alzheimer's disease (AD) begins with a decline in cognition followed by neuronal cell death and dementia. These changes have been linked to a deregulation of Ca2+ signalling caused by a progressive increase in the resting level of Ca2+, which may influence cognition by interfering with the rhythm rheostat that controls the sleep/wake cycle. The rise in resting levels of Ca2+ may not alter the processes of memory acquisition during consciousness (gamma and theta rhythms), but may duplicate some of the events that occur during the slow oscillations responsible for the twin processes of memory consolidation and memory erasure that occur during sleep. The persistent elevation in the resting level of Ca2+ induced by an accumulation of amyloid β (Aβ) oligomers duplicates a similar small global elevation normally restricted to the period of slow oscillations when memories are erased during sleep. In AD, such a rapid erasure of memories soon after they are acquired during the wake period means that they are not retained for consolidation during sleep. The Aβ deregulates Ca2+ signalling through direct effects on the neurons and indirectly by inducing inflammatory responses in the microglia and astrocytes. Some of these deleterious effects of Aβ may be alleviated by vitamin D.