With scanning confocal microscopy we obtained three-dimensional (3D) reconstructions of the transverse tubular system (t-system) of rabbit ventricular cells. We accomplished this by labeling the t-system with dextran linked to fluorescein or, alternatively, wheat-germ agglutinin conjugated to an Alexa fluor dye. Image processing and visualization techniques allowed us to reconstruct the t-system in three dimensions. In a myocyte lying flat on a coverslip, t-tubules typically progressed from its upper and lower surfaces. 3D reconstructions of the t-tubules also suggested that some of them progressed from the sides of the cell. The analysis of single t-tubules revealed novel morphological features. The average diameter of single t-tubules from six cells was estimated to 448172nm (mean SD, number of t-tubules 348, number of cross sections 5323). From reconstructions we were able to identify constrictions occurring every 1.871.09m along the principal axis of the tubule. The cross-sectional area of these constrictions was reduced to an average of 57.727.5% (number of constrictions 170) of the adjacent local maximal areas. Principal component analysis revealed flattening of t-tubular cross sections, confirming findings that we obtained from electron micrographs. Dextran- and wheat-germ agglutinin-associated signals were correlated in the t-system and are therefore equally good markers. The 3D structure of the t-system in rabbit ventricular myocytes seems to be less complex than that found in rat. Moreover, we found that t-tubules in rabbit have approximately twice the diameter of those in rat. We speculate that the constrictions (or regions between them) are sites of dyadic clefts and therefore can provide geometric markers for colocalizing dyadic proteins. In consideration of the resolution of the imaging system, we suggest that our methods permit us to obtain spatially resolved 3D reconstructions of the t-system in rabbit cells. We also propose that our methods allow us to characterize pathological defects of the t-system, e.g., its remodeling as a result of heart failure.
We describe an approach to develop anatomical models of cardiac cells. The approach is based on confocal imaging of living ventricular myocytes with submicrometer resolution, digital image processing of three-dimensional stacks with high data volume, and generation of dense triangular surface meshes representing the sarcolemma including the transverse tubular system. The image processing includes methods for deconvolution, filtering and segmentation. We introduce and visualize models of the sarcolemma of whole ventricular myocytes and single transversal tubules. These models can be applied for computational studies of cell and sub-cellular physical behavior and physiology, in particular cell signaling. Furthermore, the approach is applicable for studying effects of cardiac development, aging and diseases, which are associated with changes of cell anatomy and protein distributions.