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Circulation. 1997 Dec 2;96(11):4027-35.

Functional mechanisms underlying tachycardia-induced sustained atrial fibrillation in a chronic dog model.

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  • 1Department of Medicine and Research Center, Montreal Heart Institute and University of Montreal, Quebec, Canada.



Rapid atrial activation causes electrical remodeling that promotes atrial fibrillation (AF), but underlying mechanisms are incompletely understood. We applied epicardial mapping to evaluate atrial electrophysiology and AF duration in dogs subjected to rapid atrial pacing (400/min).


Dogs paced for 1 (P1, n=7), 7 (P7, n=13), or 42 (P42, n=7) days were compared with sham dogs (P0, n=13). Atrial pacing progressively increased AF duration. Atrial effective refractory period (ERP) and ERP accommodation to rate were significantly decreased by pacing, with near-maximal changes within 7 days. Atrial conduction velocity decreased more slowly, with maximum changes at 42 days, contributing to increases in AF duration after ERP stabilized. Stepwise multilinear regression indicated that both wavelength (P=.02) and duration of pacing (P=.0001) were independent determinants of changes in AF duration. Mean atrial fibrillation cycle length (AFCL) at 112 recording sites decreased with increased duration of rapid pacing (P<.001), and the SD of AFCL increased progressively (P<.0001), together accounting for 72% of the variance in AF duration. Increases in AFCL variability were due to regionally determined differences in AFCL changes caused by rapid pacing. The number of zones of reactivation per cycle of AF increased as AF became more sustained, consistent with multiple-wavelet reentry.


Rapid atrial activation causes time-dependent decreases in ERP, conduction velocity, and wavelength, which, along with increased regional heterogeneity, provide a substrate for AF. The conduction abnormalities and increased regional heterogeneity previously noted in patients with AF may be a consequence, as well as a cause, of the tachyarrhythmia.

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