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Circulation. 2014 Jan 14;129(2):145-156. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.006641. Epub 2013 Nov 18.

Cellular and molecular mechanisms of atrial arrhythmogenesis in patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.

Author information

Institute of Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University Duisburg-Essen, Essen, Germany.
Division of Experimental Cardiology, Medical Faculty Mannheim, Heidelberg University, Mannheim, Germany.
Cardiovascular Research Institute, Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics and Department of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, USA.
Department of Cardiac Surgery, Heidelberg University, Heidelberg, Germany.
Department of Medicine, Montreal Heart Institute and Université de Montréal and Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, McGill University, Montreal, Canada.
Contributed equally



Electrical, structural, and Ca2+ -handling remodeling contribute to the perpetuation/progression of atrial fibrillation (AF). Recent evidence has suggested a role for spontaneous sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ -release events in long-standing persistent AF, but the occurrence and mechanisms of sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ -release events in paroxysmal AF (pAF) are unknown.


Right-atrial appendages from control sinus rhythm patients or patients with pAF (last episode a median of 10-20 days preoperatively) were analyzed with simultaneous measurements of [Ca2+]i (fluo-3-acetoxymethyl ester) and membrane currents/action potentials (patch-clamp) in isolated atrial cardiomyocytes, and Western blot. Action potential duration, L-type Ca2+ current, and Na+ /Ca2+ -exchange current were unaltered in pAF, indicating the absence of AF-induced electrical remodeling. In contrast, there were increases in SR Ca2+ leak and incidence of delayed after-depolarizations in pAF. Ca2+ -transient amplitude and sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ load (caffeine-induced Ca2+ -transient amplitude, integrated Na+/Ca2+ -exchange current) were larger in pAF. Ca2+ -transient decay was faster in pAF, but the decay of caffeine-induced Ca2+ transients was unaltered, suggesting increased SERCA2a function. In agreement, phosphorylation (inactivation) of the SERCA2a-inhibitor protein phospholamban was increased in pAF. Ryanodine receptor fractional phosphorylation was unaltered in pAF, whereas ryanodine receptor expression and single-channel open probability were increased. A novel computational model of the human atrial cardiomyocyte indicated that both ryanodine receptor dysregulation and enhanced SERCA2a activity promote increased sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ leak and sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ -release events, causing delayed after-depolarizations/triggered activity in pAF.


Increased diastolic sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ leak and related delayed after-depolarizations/triggered activity promote cellular arrhythmogenesis in pAF patients. Biochemical, functional, and modeling studies point to a combination of increased sarcoplasmic reticulum Ca2+ load related to phospholamban hyperphosphorylation and ryanodine receptor dysregulation as underlying mechanisms.


atrial fibrillation; calcium; computational biology; electrophysiology; sarcoplasmic reticulum

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