Progressive depolarization: a unified hypothesis for defibrillation and fibrillation induction by shocks

J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 1998 May;9(5):529-52. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-8167.1998.tb01847.x.


Experimental studies of defibrillation have burgeoned since the introduction of the upper limit of vulnerability (ULV) hypothesis for defibrillation. Much of this progress is due to the valuable work carried out in pursuit of this hypothesis. The ULV hypothesis presented a unified electrophysiologic scheme for linking the processes of defibrillation and shock-induced fibrillation. In addition to its scientific ramifications, this work also raised the possibility of simpler and safer means for clinical defibrillation threshold testing. Recent results from an optical mapping study of defibrillation suggest, however, that the experimental data supporting the ULV hypothesis could instead be interpreted in a manner consistent with traditional views of defibrillation such as the critical mass hypothesis. This review will describe the evidence calling for such a reinterpretation. In one regard the ULV hypothesis superseded the critical mass hypothesis by linking the defibrillation and shock-induced fibrillation processes. Therefore, this review also will discuss the rationale for developing a new defibrillation hypothesis. This new hypothesis, progressive depolarization, uses traditional defibrillation concepts to cover the same ground as the ULV hypothesis in mechanistically unifying defibrillation and shock-induced fibrillation. It does so in a manner consistent with experimental data supporting the ULV hypothesis but which also takes advantage of what has been learned from optical studies of defibrillation. This review will briefly describe how this new hypothesis relates to other contemporary viewpoints and related experimental results.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Countershock*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Electrophysiology
  • Heart Ventricles / physiopathology
  • Models, Biological
  • Ventricular Fibrillation / physiopathology*