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Information about the spatiotemporal organization of atrial activity at the onset of atrial fibrillation (AF) is still limited.AF mapping was performed in 30 patients with AF (mean age 53 ± 9 years, 26 males) by deploying a noncontact mapping balloon in the left atrium (LA). Twenty-four patients had paroxysmal AF and six patients had persistent AF. Three types of AF episodes were analyzed: nonsustained AF (lasting ≤ 30 seconds), sustained AF (lasting > 30 seconds, with spontaneous conversion or requiring internal cardioversion and subsequent stable sinus rhythm), and persistent AF episodes (stable sinus rhythm lasting ≤ 1 minute after cardioversion)A total of 101 spontaneous AF onset episodes were analyzed. Analysis of AF onset showed that there was a progressive shortening of the initial cycle lengths from nonsustained episodes to sustained episodes and to persistent AF episodes. There was an earlier and more rapid reduction in the cycle lengths from persistent episodes to sustained episodes and to nonsustained episodes of AF (P < 0.05 for persistent vs sustained and for sustained vs nonsustained episodes). The development of multiwavelet activity and disorganization of conduction occurred earlier in persistent and sustained episodes than in nonsustained AF episodes. LA size was greater in patients with persistent AF episodes compared with patients with sustained or nonsustained AF episodesElectrophysiological events that develop at the onset of AF seem to be different in different types of AF. A more rapid degeneration into the fibrillatory activity was observed in persistent and sustained AF than in nonsustained AF episodes.