A computational model predicts sex-specific responses to calcium channel blockers in mesenteric vascular smooth muscle

  1. Department of Physiology & Membrane Biology
  2. Department of Mathematics, University of California, Davis, California, 95616
  3. Center for Precision Medicine and Data Science, University of California School of Medicine, Davis, California, 95616


  • Reviewing Editor
    Olujimi Ajijola
    University of California, Los Angeles, United States of America
  • Senior Editor
    Olujimi Ajijola
    University of California, Los Angeles, United States of America

Reviewer #1 (Public Review):

The authors developed computational models that capture the electrical and Ca2+ signaling behavior in mesenteric arterial cells from male and female mice. A baseline model was first formulated with eleven transmembrane currents and three calcium compartments. Sex-specific differences in the L-type calcium channel and two voltage-gated potassium channels were then tuned based on experimental measurements. To incorporate the stochastic ion channel openings seen in smooth muscle cells under physiological conditions, noise was added to the membrane potential and the sarcoplasmic Ca2+ concentration equations. Finally, the models were assembled into 1D vessel representations and used to investigate the tissue-level electrical response to an L-type calcium channel blocker.

A major strength of the paper is that the modeling studies were performed on three different scales: individual ionic currents, whole-cell, and 1D tissue. This comprehensive computational framework can help provide mechanistic insight into arterial myocyte function that might be difficult to achieve through traditional experimental methods.

The authors aimed to develop sex-specific computational models of mesenteric arterial myocytes and demonstrate their use in drug-testing applications. Throughout the paper, model behavior was both validated by experimental recordings and supported by previously published data. The main findings from the models suggested that sex-specific differences in membrane potential and Ca2+ handling are attributable to variability in the gating of a small number of voltage-gated potassium channels and L-type calcium channels. This variability contributes to a higher Ca2+ channel blocker sensitivity in female arterial vessels. Overall, the study successfully met the aims of the paper.

A main weakness of the paper, as addressed by the authors, is the simplicity of the 1D vessel model; it does not take into account various signaling pathways or interactions with other cell types which could impact smooth muscle electrophysiology. Another potential shortcoming is the use of mouse data for optimizing the model, as there could be discrepancies in signaling behavior that limit the translatability to human myocyte predictions.

Reviewer #2 (Public Review):

In this study, Hernandez-Hernandez et al developed a gender-dependent mathematical model of arterial myocytes based on a previous model and new experimental data. The ionic currents of the model and its sex difference were formulated based on patch-clamp experimental data, and the model properties were compared with single-cell and tissue scale experimental results. This is a study that is of importance for the modeling field as well as for experimental physiology.

Reviewer #3 (Public Review):

This hybrid experimental/computational study by Hernandez-Hernandez sheds new light on sex-specific differences between male and female arterial myocytes from resistance arteries. The authors conduct careful experiments in isolated myocytes from male and female mice to obtain the data needed to parameterize sex-specific models of two important ionic currents (i.e., those mediated by CaV1.2 and KV2.1). Available experimental data suggest that KV1.5 channel currents from male and female myocytes are similar, but simulations conducted in the novel Hernandez-Hernandez sex-specific models provide a more nuanced view. This gives rise to the first of the authors' three key scientific claims: (1) In males, KV1.5 is the dominant current regulating membrane potential; whereas, in females, KV2.1 plays a primary role in voltage regulation. They further show that this (2) the latter distinction drives drive sex-specific differences in intracellular Ca2+ and cellular excitability. Finally, working with one-dimensional models comprising several copies of the male/female myocyte models linked by resistive junctions, they use simulations to (3) predict that the sensitivity of arterial smooth muscle to Ca2+ channel-blocking drugs commonly used to treat hypertension is heightened in female compared to male cells.

• The Methodology is described in exquisite detail in straightforward language that will be easy to understand for most if not all peer groups working in computational physiology. The authors have deployed standard protocols (e.g., parameter fitting as described by Kernik et al., sensitivity analysis as described by Sobie et al.) and appropriate brief explanations of these techniques are provided. The manoeuvre used to represent stochastic effects on voltage dynamics is particularly clever and something I have not personally encountered before. Collectively, these strengthen the credibility of the model and greatly enrich the manuscript.

• Broadly speaking, the Results section describes findings that robustly support the three key scientific claims outlined in my summary. While there is certainly room for further discussion of some nuanced points as outlined below, it is evident these experiments were carefully designed and carried out with care and intentionality. In the present version of the manuscript, there are a few figures in which experimental data is shown side-by-side with outputs from the corresponding models. These are an excellent illustration of the power of the authors' novel sex-specific computational simulation platform. I think these figures will benefit from some modest additional quantitative analysis to substantiate the similarities between experimental and computational data, but there is already clear evidence of a good match.

Areas for Improvement:
• The authors used experimental data from a prior publication to calibrate their model of the BKCa current. As indicated in the manuscript, these data are for channel activity measured in a heterologous expression system (Xenopus oocytes). A similar principle applies to other major ion channels/pumps/etc. Is it possible there might be relevant sex-specific differences in these players as well? In the context of the present work, this feels like an important potential caveat to highlight, in case male/female differences in the activity of BKCa or other currents might influence model-predicted differences (e.g., the relative importance of KV1.5 and KV2.1). This should be discussed, and, if possible, related to the elegant sensitivity analysis presented in Fig. 5C (which shows, for example, that the models are relatively insensitive to variation in GBK).

• The authors state that their model can be expanded to 2D/3D applications, "transitioning seamlessly from single-cell to tissue-level simulations". I would like to see more discussion of this. For example, given the modest complexity of the cell-scale model, how considerable would the computational burden be to implement a large network model of a subset of the human female or male arterial system? Are there sex-specific differences in vessel and/or network macro-structure that would need to be considered? How would this influence feasibility? Rather than a 1D cable as implemented here, I imagine a multi-scale implementation would involve the representation of myocytes wrapped around vessels. How would the behaviour of such a system differ from the authors' presented work using a 1D representation of 100 myocytes coupled end-to-end? Could these differences partially explain why the traces in Fig. 8D are smoother than those in Fig. 8C? From my standpoint, discussing these points would enrich the paper.

• The nifedipine data presented in Fig. 9 are quite compelling, and a nice demonstration of the potential power of the new models. How does this relate to what is known about the clinical male/female responses to nifedipine? Are there sex differences in drug efficacy?

  1. Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  2. Wellcome Trust
  3. Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
  4. Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation