Development of a Biophysically Detailed Model of the Human Atria for the Investigation of the Mechanisms of Atrial Arrhythmias

  • Michael Colman

Student thesis: Phd


Atrial arrhythmias are the most prevalent sustained cardiac arrhythmias. Rates of hospitalisation and costs incurred to healthcare organisations are increasing in epidemic proportions. Despite this, the mechanisms of the transition from sinus rhythm to arrhythmic states are not well understood. The high level of regional electrical heterogeneity observed in the atria is thought to contribute towards the high prevalence of atrial arrhythmias. However, current computer models of the intact human atria only account for a small degree of this regional electrical heterogeneity, and do not include descriptions of the pacemaker regions of the sinoatrial node and the atrioventricular node. In this project, a new computational model of the intact 3D human atria is developed. First, a new single cell model to simulate the electrical action potential of the human atrial myocyte is developed. This model more accurately simulated the experimentally observed properties of human atrial action potentials than previous models. A family of electrically heterogeneous models describing the major regions within the atria is then developed, including those of the sinoatrial- and atrioventricular- nodes. This set of regional cell models represents the most expansive and complete set currently available. It is demonstrated that the large range of different electrical properties results in a large range of action potential morphology and duration within the atria. Models of the effect of sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation on the electrical AP of the models of the atrial working myocardium and the pacemaker regions were also incorporated. This demonstrated that sympathetic regulation can increase the pacing rate of the sinoatrial node and the atrio-ventricular node, and has a complex dose dependent effect on the atrial working myocardium. Four distinct models of the effects of atrial fibrillation induced remodelling on the atrial working myocardium are developed. These characterised the effect of remodelling of IKur on the overall changes in action potential morphology and duration observed. It is shown that the presence or absence of remodelling of this channel accounts for two distinct observed morphologies. A previous 3D anatomical model of the human atria is improved. First, detailed anatomical models for the sinoatrial node and the atrioventricular node are incorporated into the model. Second, it is further segmented to include regions for the pulmonary veins, atrio-ventricular ring, atrial septum and sinoatrial node block zone. This model is used to investigate the effects of sympathetic and parasympathetic regulation in the 3D atria. Finally, a detailed investigation of the underlying mechanisms of atrial fibrillation in the 3D atria, and the effect of electrical remodelling on the behaviour of atrial fibrillation, is performed using the detailed 3D model. This work represents a significant advance in 3D human atrial modelling. The anatomical model incorporates a greater level of complexity than previous models, and for the first time allowed investigation of the pacemaking mechanisms in the 3D intact human atria. The atrial fibrillation protocols are more physiologically relevant than previous models and have elucidated the roles that electrophysiological remodelling, electrical heterogeneity and structural anisotropy play in the development and maintenance of atrial fibrillation.
Date of Award1 Aug 2013
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorHenggui Zhang (Supervisor)


  • Cardiac modelling
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Atrial arrhythmias
  • Body surface potential
  • Remodelling

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