1. We examined the influence of two clinically relevant concentrations (1 and 2 MAC (minimum alveolar concentration)) of halothane and sevoflurane on both efflux and reverse modes of Na+-Ca2+ exchange (NCX) in enzymatically dissociated adult rat cardiac myocytes. We hypothesised that a volatile anaesthetic-induced decrease in myocardial contractility is mediated by a reduction in intracellular calcium concentration ([Ca2+]i) via inhibition of NCX. 2. Cells were exposed to cyclopiazonic acid and zero extracellular Na+ and Ca2+ to block sacroplasmic reticulum (SR) re-uptake and NCX efflux, respectively. As [Ca2+]i increased under these conditions, extracellular Na+ was rapidly (<300 ms) reintroduced in the presence or absence of a volatile anaesthetic to selectively promote Ca2+ efflux via NCX. Other cells exposed to cyclopiazonic acid and ryanodine to inhibit SR Ca2+ re-uptake and release were Na+ loaded in zero extracellular Ca2+. The reintroduction of extracellular Ca2+ was used to selectively activate Ca2+ influx via NCX. 3. Compared to controls, both 1 and 2 MAC halothane as well as sevoflurane reduced NCX-mediated efflux. The reduction in NCX-mediated influx was concentration dependent, but comparable between the two anaesthetics. Both anaesthetics at each concentration also shifted the relationship between extracellular Na+ (or extent of Na+ loading) and NCX-mediated efflux (or influx) to the right. 4. These data indicate that despite inhibition of NCX-mediated Ca2+ efflux, volatile anaesthetics produce myocardial depression. However, the inhibition of NCX-mediated Ca2+ influx may contribute to decreased cardiac contractility. The overall effect of volatile anaesthetics on the [Ca2+]i profile is likely to be determined by the relative contributions of influx vs. efflux via NCX during each cardiac cycle.
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