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Normal and abnormal cardiac rhythms are of key physiological and clinical interest. This introductory article begins from Sylvio Weidmann's key historic 1950s microelectrode measurements of cardiac electrophysiological activity and Singh & Vaughan Williams's classification of cardiotropic targets. It then proceeds to introduce the insights into cardiomyocyte function and its regulation that subsequently emerged and their therapeutic implications. We recapitulate the resulting view that surface membrane electrophysiological events underlying cardiac excitation and its initiation, conduction and recovery constitute the final common path for the cellular mechanisms that impinge upon this normal or abnormal cardiac electrophysiological activity. We then consider progress in the more recently characterized successive regulatory hierarchies involving Ca2+ homeostasis, excitation-contraction coupling and autonomic G-protein signalling and their often reciprocal interactions with the surface membrane events, and their circadian rhythms. Then follow accounts of longer-term upstream modulation processes involving altered channel expression, cardiomyocyte energetics and hypertrophic and fibrotic cardiac remodelling. Consideration of these developments introduces each of the articles in this Phil. Trans. B theme issue. The findings contained in these articles translate naturally into recent classifications of cardiac electrophysiological targets and drug actions, thereby encouraging future iterations of experimental cardiac electrophysiological discovery, and testing directed towards clinical management. This article is part of the theme issue 'The heartbeat: its molecular basis and physiological mechanisms'.

Original publication




Journal article


Philosophical transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological sciences

Publication Date





Physiological Laboratory, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EG, UK.


Myocytes, Cardiac, Humans, Electrophysiology, Signal Transduction, Arrhythmias, Cardiac, Electrophysiological Phenomena