Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Mathematics, Biology

First Advisor

Adam Levy

Second Advisor

Amy Johnson

Third Advisor

Olaf Ellers


In the American lobster (Homarus americanus), neurogenic stimulation of the heart drives fluxes of calcium (Ca2+) into the cytoplasm of a muscle cell resulting in heart muscle contraction. The heartbeat is completed by the active transport of calcium out of the cytoplasm into extracellular and intracellular spaces. An increase in the frequency of calcium release is expected to increase amplitude and duration of muscle contraction. This makes sense because an increase in cytoplasmic calcium should increase the activation of the muscle contractile elements (actin and myosin). Since calcium cycling is a reaction-diffusion process, the extent to which calcium mediates contraction amplitude and frequency will depend on the specific diffusion relationships of calcium in this system. Despite the importance of understanding this relationship, it is difficult to obtain experimental information on the dynamics of cytoplasmic calcium. Thus, we developed a mathematical diffusion model of the myofibril (muscle cell) to simulate calcium cycling in the lobster cardiac muscle cell. The amplitude and duration of the force curves produced by the model empirically mirrored that of the experimental data over a range of calcium diffusion coefficients (1-16), nerve stimulation durations (1/6-1/3 of a contraction period), and frequencies (40-80 Hz). The characteristics that alter the response of the lobster cardiac muscle system are stimulation duration (i.e., burst duration), burst frequency, and the rate of calcium diffusion into the cell’s cytoplasm. For this reason, we developed protocols that allow parameters representing these characteristics in the calcium-force model to be determined from isolated whole muscle experiments on lobster hearts (Phillips et al., 2004). These parameters are used to predict variability in lobster heart muscle function consistent with data recorded in experiments.

Within the physiological range of nerve stimulation parameters (burst duration and cycle period), calcium increased the cell’s force output for increased burst duration. For example, increased duration of stimulation increased the muscle contraction period and vice versa. In terms of diffusion, a slower rate of calcium diffusion out of the sarcoplasmic reticulum decreased both the calcium level and the contraction duration of the cell. Finally, changes in stimulation frequency did not produce changes in contraction amplitude and duration. When considered in conjunction with experimental stimulations using lobster heart muscle cells, these data illustrate the prominent role for calcium diffusion in governing contraction-relaxation cycles in lobster hearts.