The role of rotors in atrial fibrillation

David E. Krummen, Vijay Swarup, Sanjiv M. Narayan


Despite significant advances in our understanding of atrial fibrillation (AF) mechanisms in the last 15 years, ablation outcomes remain suboptimal. A potential reason is that many ablation techniques focus on anatomic, rather than patient-specific functional targets for ablation. Panoramic contact mapping, incorporating phase analysis, repolarization and conduction dynamics, and oscillations in AF rate, overcomes many prior difficulties with mapping AF. This approach provides evidence that the mechanisms sustaining human AF are deterministic, largely due to stable electrical rotors and focal sources in either atrium. Ablation of such sources (Focal Impulse and Rotor Modulation: FIRM ablation) has been shown to improve ablation outcome compared with conventional ablation alone; independent laboratories directly targeting stable rotors have shown similar results. Clinical trials examining the role of stand-alone FIRM ablation are in progress. Looking forward, translating insights from patient-specific mapping to evidence-based guidelines and clinical practice is the next challenge in improving patient outcomes in AF management.