Transmural Conduction Is the Predominant Mechanism of Breakthrough During Atrial Fibrillation: Evidence From Simultaneous Endo-Epicardial High-Density Activation Mapping

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Endo-epicardial dissociation (EED) of electric activations resulting in transmural conduction of fibrillation waves (breakthroughs) has been postulated to contribute to the complexity of the substrate of atrial fibrillation (AF). The aim of this study was to elucidate the correlation between EED and incidence of breakthrough and to test the plausibility of transmural conduction versus ectopic focal discharges as sources of breakthrough.

Methods and Results—

We analyzed high-resolution simultaneous endo-epicardial in vivo mapping data recorded in left atrial free walls of goats with acute AF, 3 weeks and 6 months of AF (all n=7). Waves were analyzed for number, size, and width and categorized according to their origin outside (peripheral wave) or within the mapping area (breakthrough). Breakthrough incidence was lowest (2.1±1.0%) in acute AF, higher (11.4±6.1%) after 3 weeks (P<0.01 versus acute AF) and highest (14.2±3.8%) after 6 months AF (P<0.001 versus acute AF) and similar in the epicardium and endocardium. Most of the breakthroughs (86%; n=564) could be explained by transmural conduction, whereas only 13% (n=85) could be explained by ectopic focal discharges. Transmural microreentry did not play a role as source of breakthrough.


This is the first study to present simultaneous endo-epicardial in vivo mapping data at sites of breakthrough events. Breakthrough incidence and degree of EED increased with increasing AF substrate complexity. In goat left atrial free walls, most of the breakthroughs can be explained by transmural conduction, whereas ectopic focal discharges play a limited role as source of breakthrough.

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