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J Biomed Opt. 2012 Jul;17(7):071309. doi: 10.1117/1.JBO.17.7.071309.

Quantification of fiber orientation in the canine atrial pacemaker complex using optical coherence tomography.

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Washington University, Department of Biomedical Engineering, 1 Brookings Drive, Campus Box 1097, St. Louis, Missouri 63130, USA.


The atrial pacemaker complex is responsible for the initiation and early propagation of cardiac impulses. Optical coherence tomography (OCT), a nondestructive imaging modality with spatial resolutions of ∼1 to 15 μm, can be used to identify unique fiber orientation patterns in this region of the heart. Functionally characterized canine sinoatrial nodes (SAN) (n=7) were imaged using OCT up to ∼1  mm below the endocardial tissue surface. OCT images were directly compared to their corresponding histological sections. Fiber orientation patterns unique to the crista terminalis (CT), SAN, and surrounding atrial myocardium were identified with dominant average fiber angles of 89 ± 12 deg, 110 ± 16 deg, and 95 ± 35 deg, respectively. Both the CT and surrounding atrial myocardium displayed predominantly unidirectionally based fiber orientation patterns within each specimen, whereas the SAN displayed an increased amount of fiber disarray manifested quantitatively as a significantly greater standard deviation in fiber angle distribution within specimens [33 ± 7 deg versus 23 ± 5 deg, atrium (p=0.02); 18 ± 3 deg, CT (p=0.0003)]. We also identified unique, local patterns of fiber orientation specific to the functionally characterized block zone. We demonstrate the ability of OCT in detecting components of the atrial pacemaker complex which are intimately involved in both normal and abnormal cardiac conduction.

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