Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increases the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), however, its arrhythmogenic mechanisms are unclear. This study investigated the effects of COPD on AF triggers (pulmonary veins, PVs) and substrates (atria), and their potential underlying mechanisms. Electrocardiographic, echocardiographic, and biochemical studies were conducted in control rabbits and rabbits with human leukocyte elastase (0.3 unit/kg)-induced COPD. Conventional microelectrode, Western blotting, and histological examinations were performed on PV, left atrium (LA), right atrium, and sinoatrial node (SAN) preparations from control rabbits and those with COPD. The rabbits with COPD had a higher incidence of atrial premature complexes, PV burst firing and delayed afterdepolarizations, higher sympathetic activity, larger LA, and faster PV spontaneous activity than did the control rabbits; but they exhibited a slower SAN beating rate. The LA of the rabbits with COPD had a shorter action potential duration and longer tachyarrhythmia induced by tachypacing (20 Hz) and isoproterenol (1 μM). Additionally, the rabbits with COPD had higher fibrosis in the PVs, LA, and SAN. H89 (10 μM), KN93 (1 μM), and KB-R7943 (10 μM) significantly suppressed burst firing and delayed afterdepolarizations in the PVs of the rabbits with COPD. Moreover, compared with the control rabbits, those with COPD had lower expression levels of the β1 adrenergic receptor, Cav 1.2, and Na+/Ca2+ exchanger in the PVs; Cav 1.2 in the LA; and hyperpolarization-activated cyclic nucleotide-gated K+ channel 4 in the SAN. COPD increases atrial arrhythmogenesis by modulating the distinctive electrophysiological characteristics of the PVs, LA, and SAN.
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