In the last 30 years, the field of cyclic adenosine 3′,5′-monophosphate (cAMP) signalling has witnessed a transformative development with the realization that cAMP is compartmentalized and that spatial regulation of cAMP is critical for faithful signal propagation and hormonal specificity. This recognition has changed our understanding of cAMP signalling from the canonical model, where a linear pathway connects a plasma membrane receptor to intracellular effectors and their targets, to a model where signal transduction occurs within a complex network of alternative branches and where an individual receptor leads to activation of a limited fraction of the network, enabled by local regulation of independent signalling units, resulting in a specific functional outcome. The cardiac myocyte has served as the cell model for many of the original findings leading to this paradigm. In this review, we cover some of the evidence supporting this new perspective and discuss how this model is providing novel mechanistic insight into cardiac myocyte physiology. With a focus on the regulation of cardiac rhythm, we consider how this model can provide an original framework for the identification of disease mechanisms. This article is part of the theme issue 'The heartbeat: its molecular basis and physiological mechanisms'.
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences