Heat tolerance of heart rate in fish is suggested to be limited by impaired electrical excitation of the ventricle due to the antagonistic effects of high temperature on Na+ (INa) and K+ (IK1) ion currents (INa is depressed at high temperatures while IK1 is resistant to them). To examine the role of Na+ channel proteins in heat tolerance of INa, we compared temperature dependencies of zebrafish (Danio rerio, warm-dwelling subtropical species) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss, cold-active temperate species) ventricular INa, and INa generated by the cloned zebrafish and rainbow trout NaV1.4 and NaV1.5 Na+ channels in human embryonic kidney (HEK) cells. Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings showed that zebrafish ventricular INa has better heat tolerance and slower inactivation kinetics than rainbow trout ventricular INa. In contrast, heat tolerance and inactivation kinetics of zebrafish and rainbow trout NaV1.4 channels are similar when expressed in the identical cellular environment of HEK cells. The same applies to NaV1.5 channels. These findings indicate that thermal adaptation of ventricular INa is largely achieved by differential expression of Na+ channel alpha subunits: zebrafish that tolerate higher temperatures mainly express the slower NaV1.5 isoform, while rainbow trout that prefer cold waters mainly express the faster NaV1.4 isoform. Differences in elasticity (stiffness) of the lipid bilayer and/or accessory protein subunits of the channel assembly may also be involved in thermal adaptation of INa. The results are consistent with the hypothesis that slow Na+ channel kinetics are associated with increased heat tolerance of cardiac excitation.

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