Technion-Israel Institute of Technology researchers have used mechanical stimulation to “train” cardiac cells to beat at a given rate. Direct physical contact with the cardiac cells is not required to synchronize their beating.

The duration of cell pacing is greater when the stimulus is mechanical, indicating that mechanical communication induces long-term alterations within the cell. As long as the cardiac cells are in the tissue being mechanically stimulated, they are trained by the stimulation, with long-lasting effects that persist even after the procedure is stopped.

The stimulation was applied by an artificial “mechanical cell,” consisting of a tiny probe (with a 0.0025 cm tip diameter) that generated (via cyclical indenting and pulling) periodic deformations in the underlying substrate (cardiac tissue). The deformations mimicked those generated by a beating cardiac cell that was also in the tissue.

After a brief 10-minute training period, the cardiac cell synchronized its beating rate with the mechanical cell. Furthermore, the cardiac cell maintained the induced beating rate for more than one hour after mechanical stimulation was stopped.