In his book The Third Ear, author Chris Lonsdale makes the following claim in chapter 14:

Some years ago, scientists did a very interesting experiment. They placed a single, live, heart cell into a Petri dish in a lab. This lonely little cell was beating for a while, then, slowly, the strength of the beat declined, getting slower and weaker, until it finally stopped. Dead.

I know very little about biology and anatomy, but the idea that a single, isolated heart cell, with no attached nervous system, can beat, strikes me as dubious. Is there any truth to this claim?


1 Answer 1


This paper studies single mouse heart cells.

It is behind a paywall, but the abstract clearly states:


  1. Single beating cells may be prepared from the young rat heart.
  2. These cells may beat for up to 40 days.

So, we can easily conclude that, yes, it is in fact possible to do so.

There is also video evidence of a single heart cell beating.

I am not sure what the point of the author is, as cells often die in culture, especially if the culture medium is not replaced. In fact, if he was trying to emphasise loneliness, the heart cell would actually be expected to grow into a muscle fiber of beating cells, as quoted from the same paper:

Single independently beating cells grow into synchronously beating nets of cells and eventually develop into beating fibers. Synchrony depends upon protoplasmic contact.

  • For a more general background, see the Wikipedia page on Cardiac Muscle Cells.
    – Oddthinking
    Jan 27, 2015 at 8:26
  • 2
    More specifically pacemaker cells: "1% of the cardiomyocytes in the myocardium possess the ability to generate electrical impulses (or action potentials) spontaneously".
    – ChrisW
    Jan 27, 2015 at 8:52

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