Cardiac arrhythmias can follow disruption of the normal cellular electrophysiological processes underlying excitable activity and their tissue propagation as coherent wavefronts from the primary sinoatrial node pacemaker, through the atria, conducting structures and ventricular myocardium. These physiological events are driven by interacting, voltage-dependent, processes of activation, inactivation, and recovery in the ion channels present in cardiomyocyte membranes. Generation and conduction of these events are further modulated by intracellular Ca2+ homeostasis, and metabolic and structural change. This review describes experimental studies on murine models for known clinical arrhythmic conditions in which these mechanisms were modified by genetic, physiological, or pharmacological manipulation. These exemplars yielded molecular, physiological, and structural phenotypes often directly translatable to their corresponding clinical conditions, which could be investigated at the molecular, cellular, tissue, organ, and whole animal levels. Arrhythmogenesis could be explored during normal pacing activity, regular stimulation, following imposed extra-stimuli, or during progressively incremented steady pacing frequencies. Arrhythmic substrate was identified with temporal and spatial functional heterogeneities predisposing to reentrant excitation phenomena. These could arise from abnormalities in cardiac pacing function, tissue electrical connectivity, and cellular excitation and recovery. Triggering events during or following recovery from action potential excitation could thereby lead to sustained arrhythmia. These surface membrane processes were modified by alterations in cellular Ca2+ homeostasis and energetics, as well as cellular and tissue structural change. Study of murine systems thus offers major insights into both our understanding of normal cardiac activity and its propagation, and their relationship to mechanisms generating clinical arrhythmias.
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