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Circulation Research

Year: 2009  |  Volume: 105  |  Issue: 12  |  Page No.: 1213 - 1222

Changes in Connexin Expression and the Atrial Fibrillation Substrate in Congestive Heart Failure

B Burstein, P Comtois, G Michael, K Nishida, L Villeneuve, Y. H Yeh and S. Nattel

Abstract

Rationale: Although connexin changes are important for the ventricular arrhythmic substrate in congestive heart failure (CHF), connexin alterations during CHF-related atrial arrhythmogenic remodeling have received limited attention.

Objective: To analyze connexin changes and their potential contribution to the atrial fibrillation (AF) substrate during the development and reversal of CHF.

Methods and Results: Three groups of dogs were studied: CHF induced by 2-week ventricular tachypacing (240 bpm, n=15); CHF dogs allowed a 4-week nonpaced recovery interval after 2-week tachypacing (n=16); and nonpaced sham controls (n=19). Left ventricular (LV) end-diastolic pressure and atrial refractory periods increased with CHF and normalized on CHF recovery. CHF caused abnormalities in atrial conduction indexes and increased the duration of burst pacing-induced AF (DAF, from 22±7 seconds in control to 1100±171 seconds, P<0.001). CHF did not significantly alter overall atrial connexin (Cx)40 and Cx43 mRNA and protein expression levels, but produced Cx43 dephosphorylation, increased Cx40/Cx43 protein expression ratio and caused Cx43 redistribution toward transverse cell-boundaries. All of the connexin-alterations reversed on CHF recovery, but CHF-induced conduction abnormalities and increased DAF (884±220 seconds, P<0.001 versus control) remained. The atrial fibrous tissue content increased from 3.6±0.7% in control to 14.7±1.5% and 13.3±2.3% in CHF and CHF recovery, respectively (both P<0.01 versus control), with transversely running zones of fibrosis physically separating longitudinally directed muscle bundles. In an ionically based action potential/tissue model, fibrosis was able to account for conduction abnormalities associated with CHF and recovery.

Conclusions: CHF causes atrial connexin changes, but these are not essential for CHF-related conduction disturbances and AF promotion, which are rather related primarily to fibrotic interruption of muscle bundle continuity.

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