Ryan Thompson


The cycling of calcium at the intracellular level of cardiac cells plays a key role in the excitation-contraction process. The interplay between ionic currents, buffering agents, and calcium release from the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) is a complex system that has been shown experimentally to exhibit complex dynamics including period-2 states (alternans) and higher-order rhythms. Many of the calcium cycling activities involve the sensing, binding, or diffusion of calcium between intracellular compartments; these are physical processes that take time and typically are modeled by “relaxation” equations where the steady-state value and time course of a particular variable are specified through an ordinary differential equation (ODE) with a time constant. An alternative approach is to use delay-differential equations (DDEs), where the delays in the system correspond to non-instantaneous events. In this thesis, we present a thorough overview of results from calcium cycling experiments and proposed intracellular calcium cycling models, as well as the context of alternans and delay-differential equations in cardiac modeling. We utilize a DDE to model the diffusion of calcium through the SR by replacing the relaxation ODE typically used for this process. The relaxation time constant τa is replaced by a delay δj, which could also be interpreted as the refractoriness of ryanodine receptor channels after releasing calcium from the sarcoplasmic reticulum. This is the first application of delay-differential equations to modeling calcium cycling dynamics, and to modeling cardiac systems at the cellular level. We analyzed the dynamical behaviors of the system and focus on the factors that have been shown to produce alternans and irregular dynamics in experiments and models with cardiac myocytes. We found that chaotic calcium dynamics could occur even for a more physiologically revelant SR calcium release slope than comparable ODE models. Increasing the SR release slope did not affect the calcium dynamics, but only shifted behavior down to lower values of the delay, allowing alternans, higher-order behavior, and chaos to occur for smaller delays than in simulations with a normal SR release slope. For moderate values of the delay, solely alternans and 1:1 steady-state behavior were observed. Above a particular threshold value for the delay, chaos appeared in the dynamics and further increasing the delay caused the system to destabilize under broader ranges of periods. We also compare our results with other models of intracellular calcium cycling and suggest promising avenues for further development of our preliminary work.

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Applied and Computational Mathematics (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

School of Mathematical Sciences (COS)


Elizabeth Cherry


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at QP535.C2 T46 2013


RIT – Main Campus

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