Impact of proinflammatory epicardial adipose tissue and differentially enhanced autonomic remodeling on human atrial fibrillation

J Thorac Cardiovasc Surg. 2022 Mar 28;S0022-5223(22)00351-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jtcvs.2022.03.013. Online ahead of print.

Abstract

Objectives: The mechanisms underlying atrial fibrillation are yet to be elucidated. We sought to investigate the interactions among autonomic remodeling, epicardial adipose tissue, inflammation, and atrial fibrillation.

Methods: Myocardium and adjacent epicardial adipose tissue of the left atrial appendage, right atrial appendage, and pulmonary vein muscle sleeves were obtained from 61 consecutive patients (35 with atrial fibrillation, 26 with no atrial fibrillation) during mitral valve surgeries. Patients were divided into the atrial fibrillation group and no atrial fibrillation group according to the history and Holter monitoring before surgery. Sympathetic and parasympathetic innervation were evaluated by tyrosine hydroxylase and choline acetyltransferase staining, respectively. Atrial fibrosis as well as cytokines/adipokines and related inflammatory proteins and signaling pathways in the epicardial adipose tissue were examined.

Results: Immunohistochemical studies revealed significantly increased tyrosine hydroxylase (+) and choline acetyltransferase (+) neural elements in the left atrial appendage and pulmonary vein muscle sleeve myocardium, as well as adjacent epicardial adipose tissue in the atrial fibrillation group, particularly the pulmonary vein muscle sleeve sites. The receiver operating curve identified a threshold ratio (tyrosine hydroxylase/choline acetyltransferase) of 0.8986 in the epicardial adipose tissue (sensitivity = 82.86%; specificity = 80.77%; area under the curve = 0.85, 95% confidence interval = 0.76-0.95, P < .0001). More patients with a higher tyrosine hydroxylase/choline acetyltransferase ratio (≥0.8986) had atrial fibrillation. Expression levels of the genes and related proteins of the β1 adrenergic, mitogen-activated protein kinase, and nuclear factor kappa B signaling pathways were higher in patients with a higher tyrosine hydroxylase/choline acetyltransferase ratio. The tyrosine hydroxylase/choline acetyltransferase ratio also correlated with fibrosis.

Conclusions: Differentially enhanced autonomic remodeling and proinflammatory and profibrotic cytokines/adipokines in the epicardial adipose tissue adjacent to the pulmonary vein muscle sleeve site may work synergistically to promote atrial fibrillation.

Keywords: atrial fibrillation; autonomic nervous system; epicardial adipose tissue; fibrosis; ganglionated plexi; inflammation.