The complexity of the heart makes an intuitive understanding of the relative contribution of ion channels, transporters and signalling pathways to cardiac electrophysiology challenging. Computational modelling of cardiac cellular electrophysiology has proven useful to integrate experimental findings, extrapolate results obtained in expression systems or animal models to other systems, test quantitatively ideas based on experimental data and provide novel hypotheses that are experimentally testable. While the bulk of computational modelling has traditionally been directed towards ventricular bioelectricity, increasing recognition of the clinical importance of atrial arrhythmias, particularly atrial fibrillation, has led to widespread efforts to apply computational approaches to understanding atrial electrical function. The increasing availability of detailed, atrial-specific experimental data has stimulated the development of novel computational models of atrial-cellular electrophysiology and Ca(2+) handling. To date, more than 300 studies have employed mathematical simulations to enhance our understanding of atrial electrophysiology, arrhythmogenesis and therapeutic responses. Future modelling studies are likely to move beyond current whole-cell models by incorporating new data on subcellular architecture, macromolecular protein complexes, and localized ion-channel regulation by signalling pathways. At the same time, more integrative multicellular models that take into account regional electrophysiological and Ca(2+) handling properties, mechano-electrical feedback and/or autonomic regulation will be needed to investigate the mechanisms governing atrial arrhythmias. A combined experimental and computational approach is expected to provide the more comprehensive understanding of atrial arrhythmogenesis that is required to develop improved diagnostic and therapeutic options. Here, we review this rapidly expanding area, with a particular focus on Ca(2+) handling, and provide ideas about potential future directions.
© 2015 The Authors. The Journal of Physiology © 2015 The Physiological Society.