Caveolae are signal transduction centers, yet their subcellular distribution and preservation in cardiac myocytes after cell isolation are not well documented. Here, we quantify caveolae located within 100 nm of the outer cell surface membrane in rabbit single-ventricular cardiomyocytes over 8 h post-isolation and relate this to the presence of caveolae in intact tissue. Hearts from New Zealand white rabbits were either chemically fixed by coronary perfusion or enzymatically digested to isolate ventricular myocytes, which were subsequently fixed at 0, 3, and 8 h post-isolation. In live cells, the patch-clamp technique was used to measure whole-cell plasma membrane capacitance, and in fixed cells, caveolae were quantified by transmission electron microscopy. Changes in cell-surface topology were assessed using scanning electron microscopy. In fixed ventricular myocardium, dual-axis electron tomography was used for three-dimensional reconstruction and analysis of caveolae in situ. The presence and distribution of surface-sarcolemmal caveolae in freshly isolated cells matches that of intact myocardium. With time, the number of surface-sarcolemmal caveolae decreases in isolated cardiomyocytes. This is associated with a gradual increase in whole-cell membrane capacitance. Concurrently, there is a significant increase in area, diameter, and circularity of sub-sarcolemmal mitochondria, indicative of swelling. In addition, electron tomography data from intact heart illustrate the regular presence of caveolae not only at the surface sarcolemma, but also on transverse-tubular membranes in ventricular myocardium. Thus, caveolae are dynamic structures, present both at surface-sarcolemmal and transverse-tubular membranes. After cell isolation, the number of surface-sarcolemmal caveolae decreases significantly within a time frame relevant for single-cell research. The concurrent increase in cell capacitance suggests that membrane incorporation of surface-sarcolemmal caveolae underlies this, but internalization and/or micro-vesicle loss to the extracellular space may also contribute. Given that much of the research into cardiac caveolae-dependent signaling utilizes isolated cells, and since caveolae-dependent pathways matter for a wide range of other study targets, analysis of isolated cell data should take the time post-isolation into account.
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