The Cardiac Cycle

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Illustration A shows cardiac diastole. The cardiac muscle is relaxed, and blood flows into the heart atria and into the ventricles. Illustration B shows atrial systole; the atria contract, pushing blood into the ventricles, which are relaxed. Illustration C shows atrial diastole; after the atria relax, the ventricles contract, pushing blood out of the heart.
During (a) cardiac diastole, the heart muscle is relaxed and blood flows into the heart. During (b) atrial systole, the atria contract, pushing blood into the ventricles. During (c) atrial diastole, the ventricles contract, forcing blood out of the heart. Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

OpenStax Biology 2e

The main purpose of the heart is to pump blood through the body; it does so in a repeating sequence called the cardiac cycle. The cardiac cycle is the coordination of the filling and emptying of the heart of blood by electrical signals that cause the heart muscles to contract and relax. The human heart beats over 100,000 times per day. In each cardiac cycle, the heart contracts (systole), pushing out the blood and pumping it through the body; this is followed by a relaxation phase (diastole), where the heart fills with blood. The atria contract at the same time, forcing blood through the atrioventricular valves into the ventricles. Closing of the atrioventricular valves produces a monosyllabic “lup” sound. Following a brief delay, the ventricles contract at the same time forcing blood through the semilunar valves into the aorta and the artery transporting blood to the lungs (via the pulmonary artery). Closing of the semilunar valves produces a monosyllabic “dup” sound.

The pumping of the heart is a function of the cardiac muscle cells, or cardiomyocytes, that make up the heart muscle. Cardiomyocytes are distinctive muscle cells that are striated like skeletal muscle but pump rhythmically and involuntarily like smooth muscle; they are connected by intercalated disks exclusive to cardiac muscle. They are self-stimulated for a period of time and isolated cardiomyocytes will beat if given the correct balance of nutrients and electrolytes.

Micrograph shows cardiac muscle cells, which are oblong and have prominent striations.
Cardiomyocytes are striated muscle cells found in cardiac tissue. (credit: modification of work by Dr. S. Girod, Anton Becker; scale-bar data from Matt Russell)

The autonomous beating of cardiac muscle cells is regulated by the heart’s internal pacemaker that uses electrical signals to time the beating of the heart. The electrical signals and mechanical actions, are intimately intertwined. The internal pacemaker starts at the sinoatrial (SA) node, which is located near the wall of the right atrium. Electrical charges spontaneously pulse from the SA node causing the two atria to contract in unison. The pulse reaches a second node, called the atrioventricular (AV) node, between the right atrium and right ventricle where it pauses for approximately 0.1 second before spreading to the walls of the ventricles. From the AV node, the electrical impulse enters the bundle of His, then to the left and right bundle branches extending through the interventricular septum. Finally, the Purkinje fibers conduct the impulse from the apex of the heart up the ventricular myocardium, and then the ventricles contract. This pause allows the atria to empty completely into the ventricles before the ventricles pump out the blood. The electrical impulses in the heart produce electrical currents that flow through the body and can be measured on the skin using electrodes. This information can be observed as an electrocardiogram (ECG)—a recording of the electrical impulses of the cardiac muscle.

 The sinoatrial node is located at the top of the right atrium, and the atrioventricular node is located between the right atrium and right ventricle. The heart beat begins with an electrical impulse at the sinoatrial node, which spreads throughout the walls of the atria, resulting in a bump in the ECG reading. The signal then coalesces at the atrioventricular node, causing the ECG reading to flat-line briefly. Next, the signal passes from the atrioventricular node to the Purkinje fibers, which travel from the atriovenricular node and down the middle of the heart, between the two ventricles, then ups the sides of the ventricles. As the signal passes down the Purkinje fibers the ECG reading falls. The signal then spreads throughout the ventricle walls, and the ventricles contract, resulting in a sharp spike in the ECG. The spike is followed by a flat-line, longer than the first then a bump.
The beating of the heart is regulated by an electrical impulse that causes the characteristic reading of an ECG. The signal is initiated at the sinoatrial valve. The signal then (a) spreads to the atria, causing them to contract. The signal is (b) delayed at the atrioventricular node before it is passed on to the (c) heart apex. The delay allows the atria to relax before the (d) ventricles contract. The final part of the ECG cycle prepares the heart for the next beat. Source: OpenStax Biology 2e

Source:

Clark, M., Douglas, M., Choi, J. Biology 2e. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: https://openstax.org/details/books/biology-2e

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