Objective: To investigate cardiac activation maps estimated using electrocardiographic imaging and to find methods reducing line-of-block (LoB) artifacts, while preserving real LoBs. Methods: Body surface potentials were computed for 137 simulated ventricular excitations. Subsequently, the inverse problem was solved to obtain extracellular potentials (EP) and transmembrane voltages (TMV). From these, activation times (AT) were estimated using four methods and compared to the ground truth. This process was evaluated with two cardiac mesh resolutions. Factors contributing to LoB artifacts were identified by analyzing the impact of spatial and temporal smoothing on the morphology of source signals. Results: AT estimation using a spatiotemporal derivative performed better than using a temporal derivative. Compared to deflection-based AT estimation, correlation-based methods were less prone to LoB artifacts but performed worse in identifying real LoBs. Temporal smoothing could eliminate artifacts for TMVs but not for EPs, which could be linked to their temporal morphology. TMVs led to more accurate ATs on the septum than EPs. Mesh resolution had a negligible effect on inverse reconstructions, but small distances were important for cross-correlation-based estimation of AT delays. Conclusion: LoB artifacts are mainly caused by the inherent spatial smoothing effect of the inverse reconstruction. Among the configurations evaluated, only deflection-based AT estimation in combination with TMVs and strong temporal smoothing can prevent LoB artifacts, while preserving real LoBs. Significance: Regions of slow conduction are of considerable clinical interest and LoB artifacts observed in non-invasive ATs can lead to misinterpretations. We addressed this problem by identifying factors causing such artifacts and methods to reduce them.
Activation times (AT) describe the sequence of cardiac depolarization and represent one of the most important parameters for analysis of cardiac electrical activity. However, estimation of ATs can be challenging due to multiple sources of noise such as fractionation or baseline wander. If ATs are estimated from signals reconstructed using electrocardiographic imaging (ECGI), additional problems can arise from over-smoothing or due to ambiguities in the inverse problem. Often, resulting AT maps show falsely homogeneous regions or artificial lines of block. As ATs are not only important clinically, but are also commonly used for evaluation of ECGI methods, it is important to understand where these errors come from. We present results from a community effort to compare methods for AT estimation on a common dataset of simulated ventricular pacings. ECGI reconstructions were performed using three different surface source models: transmembrane voltages, epi-endo potentials and pericardial potentials, all using 2nd-order Tikhonov and 6 different regularization parameters. ATs were then estimated by the community participants and compared to the ground truth. While the pacing site had the largest effect on AT correlation coefficients (CC larger for lateral than for septal pacings), there were also differences between methods and source models that were poorly reflected in CCs. Results indicate that artificial lines of block are most severe for purely temporal methods. Compared to the other source models, ATs estimated from transmembrane voltages are more precise and less prone to artifacts.