Transient outward K + current can strongly modulate action potential duration and initiate alternans in the human atrium

Haibo Ni, Henggui Zhang, Eleonora Grandi, Sanjiv M. Narayan, Wayne R. Giles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Efforts to identify the mechanisms for the initiation and maintenance of human atrial fibrillation (AF) often focus on changes in specific elements of the atrial "substrate," i.e., its electrophysiological properties and/or structural components. We used experimentally validated mathematical models of the human atrial myocyte action potential (AP), both at baseline in sinus rhythm (SR) and in the setting of chronic AF, to identify significant contributions of the Ca2+-independent transient outward K+ current ( Ito) to electrophysiological instability and arrhythmia initiation. First, we explored whether changes in the recovery or restitution of the AP duration (APD) and/or its dynamic stability (alternans) can be modulated by Ito. Recent reports have identified disease-dependent spatial differences in expression levels of the specific K+ channel α-subunits that underlie Ito in the left atrium. Therefore, we studied the functional consequences of this by deletion of 50% of native Ito (Kv4.3) and its replacement with Kv1.4. Interestingly, significant changes in the short-term stability of the human atrial AP waveform were revealed. Specifically, this K+ channel isoform switch produced discontinuities in the initial slope of the APD restitution curve and appearance of APD alternans. This pattern of in silico results resembles some of the changes observed in high-resolution clinical electrophysiological recordings. Important insights into mechanisms for these changes emerged from known biophysical properties (reactivation kinetics) of Kv1.4 versus those of Kv4.3. These results suggest new approaches for pharmacological management of AF, based on molecular properties of specific K+ isoforms and their changed expression during progressive disease. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Clinical studies identify oscillations (alternans) in action potential (AP) duration as a predictor for atrial fibrillation (AF). The abbreviated AP in AF also involves changes in K+ currents and early repolarization of the AP. Our simulations illustrate how substitution of Kv1.4 for the native current, Kv4.3, alters the AP waveform and enhances alternans. Knowledge of this "isoform switch" and related dynamics in the AF substrate may guide new approaches for detection and management of AF.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H527-H542
JournalAmerican journal of physiology. Heart and circulatory physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • action potential alternans
  • action potential restitution
  • atrial fibrillation
  • human atrial myocyte
  • K channel isoform switch
  • mathematical modeling
  • transient outward K currents

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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