1. Our aim was to investigate the effect of experimental iron deficiency on cardiac functional properties. We recorded ventricular isometric twitch, action potentials and the L-type Ca2+ current in isolated ventricular myocytes from iron-deficient rats and control rats.
2. Twitch tension and maximal rates of tension activation and relaxation were reduced in iron-deficient compared with control rats, whereas twitch duration was prolonged. Isoproterenol (10−6 mol/l) augmented tension in iron-deficient rats (P < 0.05), but only moderately affected control rats. In contrast, maximal rates of tension activation and relaxation were increased equally by isoproterenol in the two groups.
3. To determine the mechanism(s) responsible for the reduced mechanical function in iron-deficient rats, action potentials and the L-type Ca2+ current (with or without isoproterenol) were recorded in both groups.
4. The L-type Ca2+ current was smaller in ventricular myocytes from control rats than in those from iron-deficient rats; at a membrane potential of 0 mV, L-type Ca2+ current amplitudes were −1.44 ± 0.18 and −0.97 ± 0.07 nA in myocytes from control and iron-deficient rats respectively (P < 0.05).
5. Action potential duration was markedly shortened in myocytes from iron-deficient compared with control rats; action potential duration at 50% repolarization was 12.0 ± 1.6 and 7.2 ± 1.4 ms in myocytes from control and iron-deficient rats respectively (P < 0.01). These iron deficiency-induced electrophysiological alterations most probably contribute to the depressed mechanical function in iron-deficient rats.
6. The L-type Ca2+ current was augmented equally by isoproterenol in the two groups, suggesting that the enhanced inotropic responsiveness in iron-deficient rats was not due to an increased response of the L-type Ca2+ current.
7. These results may have an important implication for anaemic (iron-deficient) patients; the attenuation of their cardiac mechanical performance may be compensated by an increased reactivity to β-adrenergic stimulation.