Two structures of physiological interest in frog heart ventricles have been examined in detail: (a) the layer of endothelial cells which encloses each bundle of heart fibres, and (b) the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) inside the heart fibres. Some additional observations on fibre sizes and types have been made.
Movement across the endothelial cell layer of molecules (molecular or ionic size ≤ 12.5 nm) occurs through narrow clefts separating each endothelial cell from its neighbour. This conclusion results from experiments made with the extracellular markers ferritin and horseradish peroxidase.
A diffusion equation describing the movement of solutes into and out of the fibre bundle has been derived using several geometrical parameters, such as the length and width of the clefts and the size of the extracellular aqueous space inside the bundle, all of which were determined from electron micrographs of the tissue.
The theoretical solution for a stepwise change of external calcium concentration gives a halftime of 2.3 s (± 0.8 s, S.D. of 13 bundles) for diffusion equilibrium at the surface of the heart fibres; this value, however, is likely to be an overestimate, by some 20-30 %, on account of several systematic errors which are described.
The sarcoplasmic reticulum in heart fibres consists of a network of thin tubules which partially encircle the myofibrils at Z-line level and also form occasional longitudinal connexions. Branches extend to peripheral regions of the cell and terminate in close apposition to the inner surface of the cell membrane. The volume of the SR is estimated to be approximately 0.5% of the myofibrillar volume of the cells.
Cross-sectional areas of heart fibres (and also their shapes) vary considerably, from less than 2 to more than 100 µm2 (average 17.4 µm2).Fibres of large size and small surface/volume ratio contain many fewer myofibrils and more glycogen granules than fibres of the same size but larger surface/volume ratio.
Physiological implications of these results are discussed.