Anti-arrhythmic drug therapy is a frontline treatment for atrial fibrillation (AF), but its success rates are highly variable. This is due to incomplete understanding of the mechanisms of action of specific drugs on the atrial substrate at different stages of AF progression. We aimed to elucidate the role of cellular, tissue and organ level atrial heterogeneities in the generation of a re-entrant substrate during AF progression, and their modulation by the acute action of selected anti-arrhythmic drugs. To explore the complex cell-to-organ mechanisms, a detailed biophysical models of the entire 3D canine atria was developed. The model incorporated atrial geometry and fibre orientation from high-resolution micro-computed tomography, region-specific atrial cell electrophysiology and the effects of progressive AF-induced remodelling. The actions of multi-channel class III anti-arrhythmic agents vernakalant and amiodarone were introduced in the model by inhibiting appropriate ionic channel currents according to experimentally reported concentration-response relationships. AF was initiated by applied ectopic pacing in the pulmonary veins, which led to the generation of localized sustained re-entrant waves (rotors), followed by progressive wave breakdown and rotor multiplication in both atria. The simulated AF scenarios were in agreement with observations in canine models and patients. The 3D atrial simulations revealed that a re-entrant substrate was typically provided by tissue regions of high heterogeneity of action potential duration (APD). Amiodarone increased atrial APD and reduced APD heterogeneity and was more effective in terminating AF than vernakalant, which increased both APD and APD dispersion. In summary, the initiation and sustenance of rotors in AF is linked to atrial APD heterogeneity and APD reduction due to progressive remodelling. Our results suggest that anti-arrhythmic strategies that increase atrial APD without increasing its dispersion are effective in terminating AF.
Varela, M., Colman, M. A., Hancox, J. C., & Aslanidi, O. V. (2016). Atrial Heterogeneity Generates Re-entrant Substrate during Atrial Fibrillation and Anti-arrhythmic Drug Action: Mechanistic Insights from Canine Atrial Models. PLoS Computational Biology, 12(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1005245