Emergent properties of electrically coupled smooth muscle cells
Asynchronous and synchronous calcium oscillations occur in a variety of cells. A well-established pathway for intercellular communication is provided by gap junctions which connect adjacent cells and can mediate electrical and chemical coupling. Several experimental studies report that cells presenting only a transient increase when freshly dispersed may oscillate when they are coupled. Such observations suggest that the role of gap junctions is not only to coordinate calcium oscillations of adjacent cells. Gap junctions may also be important to generate oscillations. Here we illustrate the emergent properties of electrically coupled smooth muscle cells using a model that we recently proposed. A bifurcation analysis in the case of two cells reveals that synchronous and asynchronous calcium oscillations can be induced by electrical coupling. In a larger population of smooth muscle cells, electrical coupling may result in the creation of groups of cells presenting synchronous calcium oscillations. The elements of one group may be distant from each other. Moreover, our results highlight a general mechanism by which gap junctional electrical coupling can give rise to out of phase calcium oscillations in smooth muscle cells that are non-oscillating when uncoupled. All these observations remain true in the case of non-identical cells, except that the solution corresponding to synchronous calcium oscillations disappears and that the formation of groups is sensitive to the degree of heterogeneity. © 2005 Society for Mathematical Biology. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.