Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, but our knowledge of the arrhythmogenic substrate is incomplete. Alternans, the beat-to-beat alternation in the shape of cardiac electrical signals, typically occurs at fast heart rates and leads to arrhythmia. However, atrial alternans have been observed at slower pacing rates in AF patients than in controls, suggesting that increased vulnerability to arrhythmia in AF patients may be due to the proarrythmic influence of alternans at these slower rates. As such, alternans may present a useful therapeutic target for the treatment and prevention of AF, but the mechanism underlying alternans occurrence in AF patients at heart rates near rest is unknown. The goal of this study was to determine how cellular changes that occur in human AF affect the appearance of alternans at heart rates near rest. To achieve this, we developed a computational model of human atrial tissue incorporating electrophysiological remodeling associated with chronic AF (cAF) and performed parameter sensitivity analysis of ionic model parameters to determine which cellular changes led to alternans. Of the 20 parameters tested, only decreasing the ryanodine receptor (RyR) inactivation rate constant (kiCa) produced action potential duration (APD) alternans seen clinically at slower pacing rates. Using single-cell clamps of voltage, fluxes, and state variables, we determined that alternans onset was Ca2+-driven rather than voltage-driven and occurred as a result of decreased RyR inactivation which led to increased steepness of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR) Ca2+ release slope. Iterated map analysis revealed that because SR Ca2+ uptake efficiency was much higher in control atrial cells than in cAF cells, drastic reductions in kiCa were required to produce alternans at comparable pacing rates in control atrial cells. These findings suggest that RyR kinetics may play a critical role in altered Ca2+ homeostasis which drives proarrhythmic APD alternans in patients with AF.
Chang, K. C., Bayer, J. D., & Trayanova, N. A. (2014). Disrupted Calcium Release as a Mechanism for Atrial Alternans Associated with Human Atrial Fibrillation. PLoS Computational Biology, 10(12). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004011