# A Comparison of Two Models for Calculating the Electrical Potential in Skeletal Muscle

Today I want to tell you how Frans Gielen and I wrote the paper “ A Comparison of Two Models for Calculating the Electrical Potential in Skeletal Muscle” ( *Annals of Biomedical Engineering*, Volume 15, Pages 591–602, 1987). It’s not one of my more influential works, but it provides insight into the kind of mathematical modeling I do.

The story begins in 1984 when Frans arrived as a post doc in John Wikswo’s Living State Physics Laboratory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Tennessee. I had already been working in Wikswo’s lab since 1982 as a graduate student. Frans was from the Netherlands and I called him “that crazy Dutchman.” My girlfriend (now wife) Shirley and I would often go over to Frans and his wife Tiny’s apartment to play bridge. I remember well when they had their first child, Irene. We all became close friends, and would go camping in the Great Smoky Mountains together.

Frans had received his PhD in biophysics from Twente University. In his dissertation he had developed a mathematical model of the electrical conductivity of skeletal muscle. His model was macroscopic, meaning it represented the electrical behavior of the tissue averaged over many cells. It was also anisotropic, so that the conductivity was different if measured parallel or perpendicular to the muscle fiber direction. His PhD dissertation also reported many experiments he performed to test his model. He used the four-electrode method, where two electrodes pass current into the tissue and two others measure the resulting voltage. When the electrodes are placed along the muscle fiber direction, he found that the resulting conductivity depended on the electrode separation. If the current-passing electrodes where very close together then the current was restricted to the extracellular space, resulting in a low conductivity. If, however, the electrodes were farther apart then the current would distribute between the extracellular and intracellular spaces, resulting in a high conductivity.

When Frans arrived at Vanderbilt, he collaborated with Wikswo and me to revise his model. It seemed odd to have the conductivity (a property of the tissue) depend on the electrode separation (a property of the experiment). So we expressed the conductivity using Fourier analysis (a sum of sines and cosines of different frequencies), and let the conductivity depended on the spatial frequency *k*. Frans’s model already had the conductivity depend on the temporal frequency, *ω*, because of the muscle fiber’s membrane capacitance. So our revised model had the conductivity *σ* be a function of both *k* and *ω*: *σ* = *σ*( *k*, *ω*). Our new model had the same behavior as Fran’s original one: for high spatial frequencies the current remained in the extracellular space, but for low spatial frequencies it redistributed between the extracellular and intracellular spaces. The three of us published this result in an article titled “ Spatial and Temporal Frequency-Dependent Conductivities in Volume-Conduction Calculations for Skeletal Muscle” ( *Mathematical Biosciences*, Volume 88, Pages 159–189, 1988; the research was done in January 1986, although the paper wasn’t published until April of 1988).

Meanwhile, I was doing experiments using tissue from the heart. My goal was to calculate the magnetic field produced by a strand of cardiac muscle. Current could flow inside the cardiac cells, in the perfusing bath surrounding the strand, or in the extracellular space between the cells. I was stumped about how to incorporate the extracellular space until I read Les Tung’s PhD dissertation, in which he introduced the “ bidomain model.” Using this model and Fourier analysis, I was able to derive equations for the magnetic field and test them in a series of experiments. Wikswo and I published these results in the article “ A Bidomain Model for the Extracellular Potential and Magnetic Field of Cardiac Tissue” ( *IEEE Transactions of Biomedical Engineering*, Volume 33, Pages 467–469, 1986).

By the summer of 1986 I had two mathematical models for the electrical conductivity of muscle. One was a “monodomain” model (representing an averaging over both the intracellular and extracellular spaces) and one was a “bidomain” model (in which the intracellular and extracellular spaces were each individually averaged over many cells). It was strange to have two models, and I wondered how they were related. One was for skeletal muscle, in which each muscle cell is long and thin but not coupled to its neighbors. The other was for cardiac muscle, which is a syncytium where all the cells are coupled through intercellular junctions. I can remember going into Frans’s office and grumbling that I didn’t know how these two mathematical representations were connected. As I was writing the equations for each model on his chalkboard, it suddenly dawned on me that the main difference between the two models was that for cardiac tissue current could flow perpendicular to the fiber direction by passing through the intercellular junctions, whereas for skeletal muscle there was no intracellular path transverse to the uncoupled fibers. What if I took the bidomain model for cardiac tissue and set the transverse, intracellular conductivity equal to zero? Wouldn’t that, in some way, be equivalent to the skeletal muscle model?

I immediately went back to my own office and began to work out the details. This calculation starts on page 85 of my Vanderbilt research notebook #15, dated June 13, 1986. There were several false starts, work scratched out, and a whole page crossed out with a red pen. But by page 92 I had shown that the frequency-dependent conductivity model for skeletal muscle was equivalent to the bidomain model for cardiac muscle if I set the bidomain transverse intracellular conductivity to zero, except for one strange factor that included the membrane impedance, which represented current traveling transverse to the skeletal muscle fibers by shunting across the cell membrane. But this extra factor was important only at high temporal frequencies (when capacitance shorted out the membrane) and otherwise was negligible. I proudly marked the end of my analysis with “QED” ( quod erat demonstrandum; Latin for “that which was to be demonstrated,” which often appears at the end of a mathematical proof).

Frans and I published this result in the *Annals of Biomedical Engineering*, and it is the paper I cite at the top of this blog post. Wikswo was not listed as an author; I think he was traveling that summer, and when he returned to the lab we already had the manuscript prepared, so he let us publish it just under our names. The abstract is given below:

We compare two models for calculating the extracellular electrical potential in skeletal muscle bundles: one a bidomain model, and the other a model using spatial and temporal frequency-dependent conductivities. Under some conditions the two models are nearly identical, However, under other conditions the model using frequency-dependent conductivities provides a more accurate description of the tissue. The bidomain model, having been developed to describe syncytial tissues like cardiac muscle, fails to provide a general description of skeletal muscle bundles due to the non-syncytial nature of skeletal muscle.

Frans left Vanderbilt in December, 1986 and took a job with the Netherlands section of the company Medtronic, famous for making pacemakers and defibrillators. He was instrumental in developing their deep brain stimulation treatment for Parkinson’s disease. I graduated from Vanderbilt in August 1987, stayed for one more year working as a post doc, and then took a job at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

Those were fun times working with Frans Gielen. He was a joy to collaborate with. I’ll always remember than June day when-after brainstorming with Frans-I proved how those two models were related.

Posted by Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology at 5:00 AM

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