The mechanisms of atrial fibrillation

J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2006 Dec;17 Suppl 3:S2-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8167.2006.00626.x.


In this article we have reviewed the mechanisms of atrial fibrillation (AF) with special emphasis on the thoracic veins. Based on a number of features, the thoracic veins are highly arrhythmogenic. The pulmonary vein (PV)-left atrial (LA) junction has discontinuous myocardial fibers separated by fibrotic tissues. The PV muscle sleeve is highly anisotropic. The vein of Marshall (VOM) in humans has multiple small muscle bundles separated by fibrosis and fat. Insulated muscle fibers can promote reentrant excitation, automaticity, and triggered activity. The PV muscle sleeves contain periodic acid-Schiff (PAS)-positive large pale cells that are morphologically reminiscent of Purkinje cells. These special cells could be the sources of focal discharge. Antiarrhythmic drugs have significant effects on PV muscle sleeves both at baseline and during AF. Both class I and III drugs have effects on wavefront traveling from PV to LA and from LA to PV. Separating the thoracic veins and the LA with ablation techniques also prevents PV-LA interaction. By reducing PV-LA interaction, pharmacological therapy and PV isolation reduce the activation rate in PV, intracellular calcium accumulation, and triggered activity. Therefore, thoracic vein isolation is an important technique in AF control. We conclude that thoracic veins are important in the generation and maintenance of AF.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aging
  • Animals
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / pharmacology
  • Atrial Fibrillation / drug therapy
  • Atrial Fibrillation / physiopathology*
  • Biological Clocks / drug effects
  • Electrophysiologic Techniques, Cardiac
  • Humans
  • Ligaments / physiopathology
  • Procainamide / pharmacology
  • Pulmonary Veins / drug effects
  • Pulmonary Veins / physiopathology*
  • Sulfonamides / pharmacology
  • Vena Cava, Superior / physiopathology


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents
  • Sulfonamides
  • ibutilide
  • Procainamide