Defibrillation depends on conductivity fluctuations and the degree of disorganization in reentry patterns

J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2005 Feb;16(2):205-16. doi: 10.1046/j.1540-8167.2005.40140.x.


Defibrillation depends on conductivity and disorganization.

Introduction: Cardiac fibrillation is the deterioration of the heart's normally well-organized activity into one or more meandering spiral waves, which subsequently break up into many meandering wave fronts. Delivery of an electric shock (defibrillation) is the only effective way of restoring the normal rhythm. This study focuses on examining whether higher degrees of disorganization requires higher shock strengths to defibrillate and whether microscopic conductivity fluctuations favor shock success.

Methods and results: We developed a three-dimensional computer bidomain model of a block of cardiac tissue with straight fibers immersed in a conductive bath. The membrane behavior was described by the Courtemanche human atrial action potential model incorporating electroporation and an acetylcholine- (ACh) dependent potassium current. Intracellular conductivities were varied stochastically around nominal values with variations of up to 50%. A single rotor reentry was initiated and, by adjusting the spatial ACh variation, the level of organization could be controlled. The single rotor could be stabilized or spiral wave breakup could be provoked leading to fibrillatory-like activity. For each level of organization, multiple shock timings and strengths were applied to compute the probability of shock success as a function of shock strength.

Conclusions: Our results suggest that the level of the small-scale conductivity fluctuations is a very important factor in defibrillation. A higher variation significantly lowers the required shock strength. Further, we demonstrated that success also heavily depends on the level of organization of the fibrillatory episode. In general, higher levels of disorganization require higher shock strengths to defibrillate.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / physiology
  • Action Potentials
  • Computer Simulation
  • Electric Conductivity
  • Electric Countershock*
  • Electroporation
  • Heart Block / physiopathology*
  • Potassium / physiology


  • Acetylcholine
  • Potassium