Myofiber Architecture of the Human Atria as Revealed by Submillimeter Diffusion Tensor Imaging

Circ Arrhythm Electrophysiol. 2016 Apr;9(4):e004133. doi: 10.1161/CIRCEP.116.004133.


Background: Accurate knowledge of the human atrial fibrous structure is paramount in understanding the mechanisms of atrial electric function in health and disease. Thus far, such knowledge has been acquired from destructive sectioning, and there is a paucity of data about atrial fiber architecture variability in the human population.

Methods and results: In this study, we have developed a customized 3-dimensional diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging sequence on a clinical scanner that makes it possible to image an entire intact human heart specimen ex vivo at submillimeter resolution. The data from 8 human atrial specimens obtained with this technique present complete maps of the fibrous organization of the human atria. The findings demonstrate that the main features of atrial anatomy are mostly preserved across subjects although the exact location and orientation of atrial bundles vary. Using the full tractography data, we were able to cluster, visualize, and characterize the distinct major bundles in the human atria. Furthermore, quantitative characterization of the fiber angles across the atrial wall revealed that the transmural fiber angle distribution is heterogeneous throughout different regions of the atria.

Conclusions: The application of submillimeter diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging provides an unprecedented level of information on both human atrial structure, as well as its intersubject variability. The high resolution and fidelity of this data could enhance our understanding of structural contributions to atrial rhythm and pump disorders and lead to improvements in their targeted treatment.

Keywords: arrhythmias, cardiac; atrial function; atrial myoarchitecture; diffusion magnetic resonance imaging; diffusion tensor imaging; fiber orientation; heart atria.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods*
  • Female
  • Heart Atria / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Imaging, Three-Dimensional / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cine / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myofibrils / pathology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Ventricular Dysfunction, Right / diagnosis*