[show abstract][hide abstract] ABSTRACT: Myocytes from the failing myocardium exhibit depressed and prolonged intracellular Ca(2+) concentration ([Ca(2+)](i)) transients that are, in part, responsible for contractile dysfunction and unstable repolarization. To better understand the molecular basis of the aberrant Ca(2+) handling in heart failure (HF), we studied the rabbit pacing tachycardia HF model. Induction of HF was associated with action potential (AP) duration prolongation that was especially pronounced at low stimulation frequencies. L-type calcium channel current (I(Ca,L)) density (-0.964 +/- 0.172 vs. -0.745 +/- 0.128 pA/pF at +10 mV) and Na(+)/Ca(2+) exchanger (NCX) currents (2.1 +/- 0.8 vs. 2.3 +/- 0.8 pA/pF at +30 mV) were not different in myocytes from control and failing hearts. The amplitude of peak [Ca(2+)](i) was depressed (at +10 mV, 0.72 +/- 0.07 and 0.56 +/- 0.04 microM in normal and failing hearts, respectively; P < 0.05), with slowed rates of decay and reduced Ca(2+) spark amplitudes (P < 0.0001) in myocytes isolated from failing vs. control hearts. Inhibition of sarco(endo)plasmic reticulum Ca(2+)-ATPase (SERCA)2a revealed a greater reliance on NCX to remove cytosolic Ca(2+) in myocytes isolated from failing vs. control hearts (P < 0.05). mRNA levels of the alpha(1C)-subunit, ryanodine receptor (RyR), and NCX were unchanged from controls, while SERCA2a and phospholamban (PLB) were significantly downregulated in failing vs. control hearts (P < 0.05). alpha(1C) protein levels were unchanged, RyR, SERCA2a, and PLB were significantly downregulated (P < 0.05), while NCX protein was significantly upregulated (P < 0.05). These results support a prominent role for the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) in the pathogenesis of HF, in which abnormal SR Ca(2+) uptake and release synergistically contribute to the depressed [Ca(2+)](i) and the altered AP profile phenotype.