The mechanisms of atrial fibrillation

Peng Sheng Chen*, Chung Chuan Chou, Alex Y. Tan, Shengmei Zhou, Michael C. Fishbein, Chun Hwang, Hrayr S. Karagueuzian, Shien-Fong Lin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


In this article we have reviewed the mechanisms of atrial fibrillation (AF) with special emphasis on the thoracic veins. Based on a number of features, the thoracic veins are highly arrhythmogenic. The pulmonary vein (PV)-left atrial (LA) junction has discontinuous myocardial fibers separated by fibrotic tissues. The PV muscle sleeve is highly anisotropic. The vein of Marshall (VOM) in humans has multiple small muscle bundles separated by fibrosis and fat. Insulated muscle fibers can promote reentrant excitation, automaticity, and triggered activity. The PV muscle sleeves contain periodic acid-Schiff (PAS)-positive large pale cells that are morphologically reminiscent of Purkinje cells. These special cells could be the sources of focal discharge. Antiarrhythmic drugs have significant effects on PV muscle sleeves both at baseline and during AF. Both class I and III drugs have effects on wavefront traveling from PV to LA and from LA to PV. Separating the thoracic veins and the LA with ablation techniques also prevents PV-LA interaction. By reducing PV-LA interaction, pharmacological therapy and PV isolation reduce the activation rate in PV, intracellular calcium accumulation, and triggered activity. Therefore, thoracic vein isolation is an important technique in AF control. We conclude that thoracic veins are important in the generation and maintenance of AF.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)S2-S7
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Cardiovascular Electrophysiology
Issue numberSUPPL. 3
StatePublished - Dec 2006


  • Action potential
  • Optical mapping
  • Pulmonary veins
  • Radiofrequency ablation
  • Vein of Marshall

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