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Circulation. 1997 Nov 4;96(9):3157-63.

Structural changes of atrial myocardium due to sustained atrial fibrillation in the goat.

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Department of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Cardiovascular Research Institute Maastricht, Maastricht University, The Netherlands.



After cardioversion of sustained atrial fibrillation (AF), the electrical and contractile functions of the atria are impaired, and recurrences of AF frequently occur. Whether remodeling of the structure of atrial myocardium is the basis for this problem is not known.


Sustained AF was induced by electrical pacing in 13 goats instrumented long-term. The goats were killed after 9 to 23 weeks, and the atrial myocardium was examined by light and electron microscopy. The changes were quantified in left and right atrial free walls, appendages, trabeculae, the interatrial septum, and the bundle of Bachmann. A substantial proportion of the atrial myocytes (up to 92%) revealed marked changes in their cellular substructures, such as loss of myofibrils, accumulation of glycogen, changes in mitochondrial shape and size, fragmentation of sarcoplasmic reticulum, and dispersion of nuclear chromatin. These changes were accompanied by an increase in size of the myocytes (up to 195%). There were virtually no signs of cellular degeneration, and the interstitial space remained unaltered. The duration of sustained AF did not significantly affect the degree of myolytic cell changes.


Sustained AF in goats leads to predominantly structural changes in the atrial myocytes similar to those seen in ventricular myocytes from chronic hibernating myocardium. These structural changes may explain the depressed contractile function of atrial myocardium after cardioversion. This goat model of AF offers a new approach to study the cascade of events leading to sustained AF and its maintenance.

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