Mechanically Induced Ectopy via Stretch-Activated Cation-Nonselective Channels Is Caused by Local Tissue Deformation and Results in Ventricular Fibrillation if Triggered on the Repolarization Wave Edge (Commotio Cordis)

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External chest impacts (commotio cordis) can cause mechanically induced premature ventricular excitation (PVEM) and, rarely, ventricular fibrillation (VF). Because block of stretch-sensitive ATP-inactivated potassium channels curtailed VF occurrence in a porcine model of commotio cordis, VF has been suggested to arise from abnormal repolarization caused by stretch activation of potassium channels. Alternatively, VF could result from abnormal excitation by PVEM, overlapping with normal repolarization-related electric heterogeneity. Here, we investigate mechanisms and determinants of PVEM induction and its potential role in commotio cordis–induced VF.

Methods and Results—

Subcontusional mechanical stimuli were applied to isolated rabbit hearts during optical voltage mapping, combined with pharmacological block of ATP-inactivated potassium or stretch-activated cation-nonselective channels. We demonstrate that local mechanical stimulation reliably triggers PVEM at the contact site, with inducibility predicted by local tissue indentation. PVEM induction is diminished by pharmacological block of stretch-activated cation-nonselective channels. In hearts where electrocardiogram T waves involve a well-defined repolarization edge traversing the epicardium, PVEM can reliably provoke VF if, and only if, the mechanical stimulation site overlaps the repolarization wave edge. In contrast, application of short-lived intraventricular pressure surges neither triggers PVEM nor changes repolarization. ATP-inactivated potassium channel block has no effect on PVEM inducibility per se, but shifts it to later time points by delaying repolarization and prolonging refractoriness.


Local mechanical tissue deformation determines PVEM induction via stretch-activation of cation-nonselective channels, with VF induction requiring PVEM overlap with the trailing edge of a normal repolarization wave. This defines a narrow, subject-specific vulnerable window for commotio cordis–induced VF that exists both in time and in space.

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