Muskrats (Ondontra zibethicus) are common freshwater diving mammals exhibiting a bradycardia with both forced and voluntary diving. This bradycardia is mediated by vagal innervation; however, if hypoxia is present there may be local factors that also decrease heart rate. Some of these local factors may include ATP-sensitive potassium channel activation and extracellular accumulation of potassium ions, hydrogen ions and lactate. The purpose of this study was to investigate the role of these factors in the isolated perfused hearts of muskrats and of a non-diving mammal, the guinea pig. Although lactate and proton administration reduced heart rate in isolated muskrat and guinea pig hearts, there was no difference in the response to lactate and proton infusion between the two species. Muskrat hearts were more sensitive to the heart-rate-lowering effects of exogenously applied potassium than were guinea pig hearts. Early increases in extracellular potassium concentration during hypoxia are thought to be mediated by the ATP-sensitive potassium channel. Activation of these channels under normoxic conditions had a mildly negative chronotropic effect in both species; however, activation of these channels with Lemakalim under hypoxic conditions caused the guinea pig heart to respond with an augmented bradycardia similar to that seen in the hypoxic muskrat heart in the absence of drugs. Inhibition of these channels by glibenclamide during hypoxia was partially successful in blocking the bradycardia in guinea pig hearts, but inhibition of the same channels in hypoxic muskrat hearts had a damaging effect as two of five hearts went into contracture during the hypoxia. Thus, although ATP-sensitive potassium channels appear to have a major role in the bradycardia of hypoxia in guinea pigs, the failure to prevent the bradycardia by inhibition of these channels in muskrat hearts suggests that multiple factors are involved in the hypoxia-induced bradycardia in this species.

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