What is the automatic focus theory of atrial fibrillation (Afib) (AF)?

Updated: Apr 09, 2019
  • Author: Lawrence Rosenthal, MD, PhD, FACC, FHRS; Chief Editor: Jeffrey N Rottman, MD  more...
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Answer

A focal origin of AF is supported by several experimental models showing that AF persists only in isolated regions of atrial myocardium. This theory has garnered considerable attention, as studies have demonstrated that a focal source of AF can be identified in humans and that isolation of this source can eliminate AF.

The pulmonary veins appear to be the most frequent source of these automatic foci, but other foci have been demonstrated in several areas throughout the atria. Cardiac muscle in the pulmonary veins appears to have active electrical properties that are similar, but not identical, to those of atrial myocytes. Heterogeneity of electrical conduction around the pulmonary veins is theorized to promote reentry and sustained AF. Thus, pulmonary vein automatic triggers may provide the initiating event, and heterogeneity of conduction may provide the sustaining conditions in many patients with AF.


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