Introduction: Atrial fibrillation (AF) in the left atrium (LA) is poorly defined in terms of regional differences in the degree of organization, characteristics of paroxysmal and persistent variants, and electrophysiologic events that develop at the onset of episodes.
Methods and results: The study population consisted of 21 patients (15 men and 6 women; mean age 58+/-9.4 years) with paroxysmal (10 patients) or persistent (11 patients) AF. Mapping of the LA during sustained episodes and the onset of AF was performed with a 64-electrode basket catheter. At the onset of AF, repetitive beats starting with atrial premature complexes and ending with generation of the earliest fibrillatory activity were defined as intermediary rhythm. Patients with paroxysmal AF had longer AF cycle lengths and more pronounced regional differences than patients with persistent AF. In total, AF cycle lengths in the LA in patients with persistent AF were 20% shorter than in patients with paroxysmal AF. Initiation of AF was preceded by an intermediary rhythm of 5.5+/-2.5 cycles (6.3+/-2.7 cycles in paroxysmal AF vs 4.2+/-1.0 cycles in persistent AF; P = 0.026). At the onset of AF, the earliest generators of fibrillatory activity were located more frequently in the posterior wall of the LA.
Conclusion: AF in the LA displays substantial regional differences in terms of AF cycle lengths and degree of organization. Patients with persistent AF have shorter cycle lengths and a higher degree of disorganized activity than patients with paroxysmal AF. Intermediary rhythms play an important role in initiation of AF via activation of generator regions in the LA.