Alternans of action potential duration has been associated with T wave alternans and the development of arrhythmias because it produces large gradients of repolarization. However, little is known about alternans dynamics in large mammalian hearts. Using optical mapping to record electrical activations simultaneously from the epicardium and endocardium of 9 canine right ventricles, we demonstrate novel arrhythmogenic complex spatiotemporal dynamics. (i) Alternans predominantly develops first on the endocardium. (ii) The postulated simple progression from normal rhythm to concordant to discordant alternans is not always observed; concordant alternans can develop from discordant alternans as the pacing period is decreased. (iii) In contrast to smaller tissue preparations, multiple stationary nodal lines may exist and need not be perpendicular to the pacing site or to each other. (iv) Alternans has fully three-dimensional dynamics and the epicardium and endocardium can show significantly different dynamics: multiple nodal surfaces can be transmural or intramural and can form concave/convex surfaces resulting in islands of discordant alternans. (v) The complex spatiotemporal patterns observed during alternans are very sensitive to both the site of stimulation and the stimulation history. Alternans in canine ventricles not only exhibit larger amplitudes and persist for longer cycle length regimes compared to those found in smaller mammalian hearts, but also show novel dynamics not previously described that enhance dispersion and show high sensitivity to initial conditions. This indicates some underlying predisposition to chaos and can help to guide the design of new drugs and devices controlling and preventing arrhythmic events.
Keywords: cardiac alternans; cardiac electrophysiology; optical mapping; spatiotemporal patterns; ventricular arrhythmias.