Electropathological Substrate of Long-Standing Persistent Atrial Fibrillation in Patients With Structural Heart Disease

Maurits A. Allessie*, Natasja M. S. de Groot, Richard P. M. Houben, Ulrich Schotten, Eric Boersma, Joep L. Smeets, Harry J. Crijns

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Background-The electropathological substrate of persistent atrial fibrillation (AF) in humans is largely unknown. The aim of this study was to compare the spatiotemporal characteristics of the fibrillatory process in patients with normal sinus rhythm and long-standing persistent AF. Methods and Results-During cardiac surgery, epicardial mapping (244 electrodes) of the right atrium (RA), the left lateral wall (LA), and the posterior left atrium (PV) was performed in 24 patients with long-standing persistent AF. Twenty-five patients with normal sinus rhythm, in whom AF was induced by rapid pacing, served as a reference group. A mapping algorithm was developed that separated the complex fibrillation process into its individual elements (wave mapping). Parameters used to characterize the substrate of AF were (1) the total length of interwave conduction block, (2) the number of fibrillation waves, and (3) the ratio of block to collision of fibrillation waves (dissociation index). In 4403 maps of persistent AF, no evidence for the presence of stable foci or rotors was found. Instead, many narrow wavelets propagated simultaneously through the atrial wall. The lateral boundaries of these waves were formed by lines of interwave conduction block, predominantly oriented parallel to the atrial musculature. Lines of block were not fixed but continuously changed on a beat-to-beat basis. In patients with persistent AF, the total length of block in the RA was more than 6-fold higher than during acute AF (median, 21.1 versus 3.4 mm/cm(2); P <0.0001). The highest degree of interwave conduction block was found in the PV area (33.0 mm/cm(2)). The number of fibrillation waves during persistent AF was 4.5/cm(2) compared with 2.3 during acute AF, and the dissociation index was 7.3 versus 1.5 (P <0.0001). The interindividual variation of these parameters among patients was high. Conclusions-Electric dissociation of neighboring atrial muscle bundles is a key element in the development of the substrate of human AF. The degree of the pathological changes can be measured on an individual basis by electrophysiological parameters in the spatial domain. (Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2010;3:606-615.)
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-615
JournalCirculation-Arrhythmia and Electrophysiology
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2010


  • conduction
  • mapping
  • reentry
  • remodeling
  • atrial fibrillation

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