Objectives: The aim of this study was to determine whether onset sites of human atrial fibrillation (AF) exhibit conduction slowing, reduced amplitude, and/or prolonged duration of signals (i.e., fractionation) immediately before AF onset. Background: Few studies have identified functional determinants of AF initiation. Because conduction slowing is required for reentry, we hypothesized that AF from pulmonary vein triggers might initiate at sites exhibiting rate-dependent slowing in conduction velocity (CV restitution) or local slowing evidenced by signal fractionation. Methods: In 28 patients with AF (left atrial size 43 ± 5 mm; n = 13 persistent) and 3 control subjects (no AF) at electrophysiological study, we measured bi-atrial conduction time (CT) electrogram fractionation at 64 or 128 electrodes with baskets in left (n = 17) or both (n = 14) atria during superior pulmonary vein pacing at cycle lengths (CL) accelerating from 500 ms (120 beats/min) to AF onset. Results: Atrial fibrillation initiated in 19 of 28 AF patients and no control subjects. During rate acceleration, conduction slowed in 23 of 28 AF patients (vs. no control subjects, p = 0.01) at the site of AF initiation (15 of 19) or latest activated site (20 of 28). The CT lengthened from 79 ± 23 ms to 107 ± 39 ms (p < 0.001) on acceleration, in a spectrum from persistent AF (greatest slowing) to control subjects (least slowing; p < 0.05). Three patterns of CV restitution were observed: 1) broad (gradual CT prolongation, 37% patients); 2) steep (abrupt prolongation, at CL 266 ± 62 ms, 42%); and 3) flat (no prolongation, 21% AF patients, all control subjects). The AF initiation was more prevalent in patients with CV restitution (17 of 23 vs. 2 of 8; p = 0.03) and immediately followed abrupt re-orientation of the activation vector in patients with broad but not steep CV restitution (p < 0.01). Patients with broad CV restitution had larger atria (p = 0.03) and were more likely to have persistent AF (p = 0.04). Notably, neither amplitude nor duration (fractionation) of the atrial signal at the AF initiation site were rate-dependent (both p = NS). Conclusions: Acceleration-dependent slowing of atrial conduction (CV restitution) precedes AF initiation, whereas absence of CV restitution identifies inability to induce AF. Conduction restitution, but not fractionated electrograms, may thus track the functional milieu enabling AF initiation and has implications for guiding AF ablation and pharmacological therapy.
- activation time
- atrial conduction restitution
- atrial fibrillation
- conduction slowing
- conduction velocity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine