Research Highlights

Arrhythmogenic propensity of the fibrotic substrate after atrial fibrillation ablation: a longitudinal study using magnetic resonance imaging-based atrial models


Rheeda L. Ali, Joe B. Hakim, Patrick M. Boyle, Sohail Zahid, Bhradeev Sivasambu, Joseph E. Marine, Hugh Calkins, Natalia A. Trayanova, and David D. Spragg

Cardiovascular Research (2019) 115, 1757–1765

Inadequate modification of the atrial fibrotic substrate necessary to sustain re-entrant drivers (RDs) may explain atrial fibrillation (AF) recurrence following failed pulmonary vein isolation (PVI). Personalized computational models of the fibrotic atrial substrate derived from late gadolinium enhanced (LGE)-magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used to non-invasively determine the presence of RDs. The objective of this study is to assess the changes of the arrhythmogenic propensity of the fibrotic substrate after PVI.
Methods and results
Pre- and post-ablation individualized left atrial models were constructed from 12 AF patients who underwent pre- and post-PVI LGE-MRI, in six of whom PVI failed. Pre-ablation AF sustained by RDs was induced in 10 models. RDs in the post-ablation models were classified as either preserved or emergent. Pre-ablation models derived from patients for whom the procedure failed exhibited a higher number of RDs and larger areas defined as promoting RD formation when compared with atrial models from patients who had successful ablation, 2.6 ± 0.9 vs. 1.8 ± 0.2 and 18.9 ± 1.6% vs. 13.8 ± 1.5%, respectively. In cases of successful ablation, PVI eliminated completely the RDs sustaining AF. Preserved RDs unaffected by ablation were documented only in post-ablation models of patients who experienced recurrent AF (2/5 models); all of these models had also one or more emergent RDs at locations distinct from those of pre-ablation RDs. Emergent RDs occurred in regions that had the same characteristics of the fibrosis spatial distribution (entropy and density) as regions that harboured RDs in pre-ablation models.
Recurrent AF after PVI in the fibrotic atria may be attributable to both preserved RDs that sustain AF pre- and post-ablation, and the emergence of new RDs following ablation. The same levels of fibrosis entropy and density underlie the pro-RD propensity in both pre- and post-ablation substrates.