Computerized mapping of atrial fibrillation was performed in animals and man. To study atrial fibrillation in a systematic manner, we developed a clinically relevant experimental model of atrial fibrillation. Chronic mitral regurgitation was created surgically in 25 dogs without opening the pericardium. After several months of chronic mitral regurgitation, the atria became enlarged and sustained atrial fibrillation could be induced by standard programmed electrical stimulation techniques. Computerized isochronous activation maps of the atria were recorded during atrial fibrillation from 208 bipolar electrodes simultaneously. In a parallel study, human atrial fibrillation was mapped with a separate 160-channel intraoperative mapping system in patients with paroxysmal atrial fibrillation who were undergoing surgical correction of the Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. The canine activation sequence maps demonstrated a spectrum of rhythm abnormalities ranging from simple atrial flutter to complex atrial fibrillation. They also showed that macroreentrant circuits within the atrial myocardium were responsible for the entire spectrum of arrhythmias. Atrial reentry was also documented during human atrial fibrillation. All patients had nonuniform conduction around regions of bidirectional block in both atria resulting in multiple discrete wave fronts. In addition, six patients had a single reentrant circuit in the right atrium in which bidirectional block of the activation wave front occurred along the sulcus terminals between the venae cavae. The left atrium in all patients demonstrated multiple wave fronts and conduction block, but left atrial reentry could not be detected. Both the experimental study and the clinical study demonstrated that multiple wave fronts, nonuniform conduction, bidirectional block, and large (macroreentrant) reentrant circuits occur during atrial fibrillation. The presence of macroreentrant circuits and the absence of either microreentrant circuits or evidence of atrial automaticity suggests that atrial fibrillation should be amenable to surgical ablation.