Decades ago, it was proposed that Na transport in cardiac myocytes is modulated by large changes in cytoplasmic Na concentration within restricted subsarcolemmal spaces. Here, we probe this hypothesis for Na/K pumps by generating constitutive transsarcolemmal Na flux with the Na channel opener veratridine in whole-cell patchclamp recordings. Using 25 mM Na in the patch pipette, pump currents decay strongly during continuous activation by extracellular K (τ, ~2 s). In contradiction to depletion hypotheses, the decay becomes stronger when pump currents are decreased by hyperpolarization. Na channel currents are nearly unchanged by pump activity in these conditions, and conversely, continuous Na currents up to 0.5 nA in magnitude have negligible effects on pump currents. These outcomes are even more pronounced using 50 mM Li as a cytoplasmic Na congener. Thus, the Na/K pump current decay reflects mostly an inactivation mechanism that immobilizes Na/K pump charge movements, not cytoplasmic Na depletion. When channel currents are increased beyond 1 nA, models with unrestricted subsarcolemmal diffusion accurately predict current decay (τ ~15 s) and reversal potential shifts observed for Na, Li, and K currents through Na channels opened by veratridine, as well as for Na, K, Cs, Li, and Cl currents recorded in nystatin-permeabilized myocytes. Ion concentrations in the pipette tip (i.e., access conductance) track without appreciable delay the current changes caused by sarcolemmal ion flux. Importantly, cytoplasmic mixing volumes, calculated from current decay kinetics, increase and decrease as expected with osmolarity changes (τ > 30 s). Na/K pump current run-down over 20 min reflects a failure of pumps to recover from inactivation. Simulations reveal that pump inactivation coupled with Na-activated recovery enhances the rapidity and effectivity of Na homeostasis in cardiac myocytes. In conclusion, an autoregulatory mechanism enhances cardiac Na/K pump activity when cytoplasmic Na rises and suppresses pump activity when cytoplasmic Na declines.
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