J. Sánchez, and A. Loewe. A Review of Healthy and Fibrotic Myocardium Microstructure Modeling and Corresponding Intracardiac Electrograms. In Frontiers in Physiology, vol. 13, 2022
Computational simulations of cardiac electrophysiology provide detailed information on the depolarization phenomena at different spatial and temporal scales. With the development of new hardware and software, in silico experiments have gained more importance in cardiac electrophysiology research. For plane waves in healthy tissue, in vivo and in silico electrograms at the surface of the tissue demonstrate symmetric morphology and high peak-to-peak amplitude. Simulations provided insight into the factors that alter the morphology and amplitude of the electrograms. The situation is more complex in remodeled tissue with fibrotic infiltrations. Clinically, different changes including fractionation of the signal, extended duration and reduced amplitude have been described. In silico, numerous approaches have been proposed to represent the pathological changes on different spatial and functional scales. Different modeling approaches can reproduce distinct subsets of the clinically observed electrogram phenomena. This review provides an overview of how different modeling approaches to incorporate fibrotic and structural remodeling affect the electrogram and highlights open challenges to be addressed in future research.
In patients with atrial fibrillation, intracardiac electrogram signal amplitude is known to decrease with increased structural tissue remodeling, referred to as fibrosis. In addition to the isolation of the pulmonary veins, fibrotic sites are considered a suitable target for catheter ablation. However, it remains an open challenge to find fibrotic areas and to differentiate their density and transmurality. This study aims to identify the volume fraction and transmurality of fibrosis in the atrial substrate. Simulated cardiac electrograms, combined with a generalized model of clinical noise, reproduce clinically measured signals. Our hybrid dataset approach combines and clinical electrograms to train a decision tree classifier to characterize the fibrotic atrial substrate. This approach captures different dynamics of the electrical propagation reflected on healthy electrogram morphology and synergistically combines it with synthetic fibrotic electrograms from experiments. The machine learning algorithm was tested on five patients and compared against clinical voltage maps as a proof of concept, distinguishing non-fibrotic from fibrotic tissue and characterizing the patient's fibrotic tissue in terms of density and transmurality. The proposed approach can be used to overcome a single voltage cut-off value to identify fibrotic tissue and guide ablation targeting fibrotic areas.
J. Sánchez, B. Trenor, J. Saiz, O. Dössel, and A. Loewe. Fibrotic Remodeling during Persistent Atrial Fibrillation: In Silico Investigation of the Role of Calcium for Human Atrial Myofibroblast Electrophysiology. In Cells, vol. 10(11) , pp. 2852, 2021
During atrial fibrillation, cardiac tissue undergoes different remodeling processes at different scales from the molecular level to the tissue level. One central player that contributes to both electrical and structural remodeling is the myofibroblast. Based on recent experimental evidence on myofibroblasts’ ability to contract, we extended a biophysical myofibroblast model with Ca2+ handling components and studied the effect on cellular and tissue electrophysiology. Using genetic algorithms, we fitted the myofibroblast model parameters to the existing in vitro data. In silico experiments showed that Ca2+ currents can explain the experimentally observed variability regarding the myofibroblast resting membrane potential. The presence of an L-type Ca2+ current can trigger automaticity in the myofibroblast with a cycle length of 799.9 ms. Myocyte action potentials were prolonged when coupled to myofibroblasts with Ca2+ handling machinery. Different spatial myofibroblast distribution patterns increased the vulnerable window to induce arrhythmia from 12 ms in non-fibrotic tissue to 22 ± 2.5 ms and altered the reentry dynamics. Our findings suggest that Ca2+ handling can considerably affect myofibroblast electrophysiology and alter the electrical propagation in atrial tissue composed of myocytes coupled with myofibroblasts. These findings can inform experimental validation experiments to further elucidate the role of myofibroblast Ca2+ handling in atrial arrhythmogenesis.
Under persistent atrial fibrillation (peAF), cardiac tissue experiences electrophysiological and structural remodeling. Fibrosis in the atrial tissue has an important impact on the myocyte action potential and its propagation. The objective of this work is to explore the effect of heterogeneities present in the fibrotic tissue and their impact on the intracardiac electrogram (EGM). Human atrial myocyte and fibroblast electrophysiology was simulated using mathematical models proposed by Koivumäki et al. to represent electrical remodeling under peAF and the paracrine effect of the transforming grow factor 1 (TGF-1). 2D tissue simulations were computed varying the density of fibrosis (10%, 20% and 40%), myofibroblasts and collagen were randomly distributed with different ratios (0%-100%, 50%-50% and 100%- 0%). Results show that increasing the fibrosis density changes the re-entry dynamics from functional to anatomical due to a block in conduction in regions with high fibrosis density (40%). EGM morphology was affected by different ratios of myofibroblasts-collagen. For low myofibroblast densities (below 50%) the duration of active segments was shorter compared to higher myofibroblasts densities (above 50%). Our results show that fibrosis heterogeneities can alter the dynamics of the re-entry and the morphology of the EGM.
AIMS: The long-term success rate of ablation therapy is still sub-optimal in patients with persistent atrial fibrillation (AF), mostly due to arrhythmia recurrence originating from arrhythmogenic sites outside the pulmonary veins. Computational modelling provides a framework to integrate and augment clinical data, potentially enabling the patient-specific identification of AF mechanisms and of the optimal ablation sites. We developed a technology to tailor ablations in anatomical and functional digital atrial twins of patients with persistent AF aiming to identify the most successful ablation strategy. METHODS AND RESULTS: Twenty-nine patient-specific computational models integrating clinical information from tomographic imaging and electro-anatomical activation time and voltage maps were generated. Areas sustaining AF were identified by a personalized induction protocol at multiple locations. State-of-the-art anatomical and substrate ablation strategies were compared with our proposed Personalized Ablation Lines (PersonAL) plan, which consists of iteratively targeting emergent high dominant frequency (HDF) regions, to identify the optimal ablation strategy. Localized ablations were connected to the closest non-conductive barrier to prevent recurrence of AF or atrial tachycardia. The first application of the HDF strategy had a success of >98% and isolated only 5-6% of the left atrial myocardium. In contrast, conventional ablation strategies targeting anatomical or structural substrate resulted in isolation of up to 20% of left atrial myocardium. After a second iteration of the HDF strategy, no further arrhythmia episode could be induced in any of the patient-specific models. CONCLUSION: The novel PersonAL in silico technology allows to unveil all AF-perpetuating areas and personalize ablation by leveraging atrial digital twins.
A. Amsaleg, J. Sánchez, R. Mikut, and A. Loewe. Characterization of the pace-and-drive capacity of the human sinoatrial node: A 3D in silico study.. In Biophysical journal, vol. 121(22) , pp. 4247-4259, 2022
The sinoatrial node (SAN) is a complex structure that spontaneously depolarizes rhythmically ("pacing") and excites the surrounding non-automatic cardiac cells ("drive") to initiate each heart beat. However, the mechanisms by which the SAN cells can activate the large and hyperpolarized surrounding cardiac tissue are incompletely understood. Experimental studies demonstrated the presence of an insulating border that separates the SAN from the hyperpolarizing influence of the surrounding myocardium, except at a discrete number of sinoatrial exit pathways (SEPs). We propose a highly detailed 3D model of the human SAN, including 3D SEPs to study the requirements for successful electrical activation of the primary pacemaking structure of the human heart. A total of 788 simulations investigate the ability of the SAN to pace and drive with different heterogeneous characteristics of the nodal tissue (gradient and mosaic models) and myocyte orientation. A sigmoidal distribution of the tissue conductivity combined with a mosaic model of SAN and atrial cells in the SEP was able to drive the right atrium (RA) at varying rates induced by gradual If block. Additionally, we investigated the influence of the SEPs by varying their number, length, and width. SEPs created a transition zone of transmembrane voltage and ionic currents to enable successful pace and drive. Unsuccessful simulations showed a hyperpolarized transmembrane voltage (-66 mV), which blocked the L-type channels and attenuated the sodium-calcium exchanger. The fiber direction influenced the SEPs that preferentially activated the crista terminalis (CT). The location of the leading pacemaker site (LPS) shifted toward the SEP-free areas. LPSs were located closer to the SEP-free areas (3.46 ± 1.42 mm), where the hyperpolarizing influence of the CT was reduced, compared with a larger distance from the LPS to the areas where SEPs were located (7.17± 0.98 mm). This study identified the geometrical and electrophysiological aspects of the 3D SAN-SEP-CT structure required for successful pace and drive in silico.
T. Zheng, L. Azzolin, J. Sánchez, O. Dössel, and A. Loewe. An automate pipeline for generating fiber orientation and region annotation in patient specific atrial models. In Current Directions in Biomedical Engineering, vol. 7(2) , pp. 136-139, 2021
BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Cardiac electrophysiology is a medical specialty with a long and rich tradition of computational modeling. Nevertheless, no community standard for cardiac electrophysiology simulation software has evolved yet. Here, we present the openCARP simulation environment as one solution that could foster the needs of large parts of this community. METHODS AND RESULTS: openCARP and the Python-based carputils framework allow developing and sharing simulation pipelines which automate in silico experiments including all modeling and simulation steps to increase reproducibility and productivity. The continuously expanding openCARP user community is supported by tailored infrastructure. Documentation and training material facilitate access to this complementary research tool for new users. After a brief historic review, this paper summarizes requirements for a high-usability electrophysiology simulator and describes how openCARP fulfills them. We introduce the openCARP modeling workflow in a multi-scale example of atrial fibrillation simulations on single cell, tissue, organ and body level and finally outline future development potential. CONCLUSION: As an open simulator, openCARP can advance the computational cardiac electrophysiology field by making state-of-the-art simulations accessible. In combination with the carputils framework, it offers a tailored software solution for the scientific community and contributes towards increasing use, transparency, standardization and reproducibility of in silico experiments.
AIMS: The treatment of atrial fibrillation beyond pulmonary vein isolation has remained an unsolved challenge. Targeting regions identified by different substrate mapping approaches for ablation resulted in ambiguous outcomes. With the effective refractory period being a fundamental prerequisite for the maintenance of fibrillatory conduction, this study aims at estimating the effective refractory period with clinically available measurements. METHODS AND RESULTS: A set of 240 simulations in a spherical model of the left atrium with varying model initialization, combination of cellular refractory properties, and size of a region of lowered effective refractory period was implemented to analyse the capabilities and limitations of cycle length mapping. The minimum observed cycle length and the 25% quantile were compared to the underlying effective refractory period. The density of phase singularities was used as a measure for the complexity of the excitation pattern. Finally, we employed the method in a clinical test of concept including five patients. Areas of lowered effective refractory period could be distinguished from their surroundings in simulated scenarios with successfully induced multi-wavelet re-entry. Larger areas and higher gradients in effective refractory period as well as complex activation patterns favour the method. The 25% quantile of cycle lengths in patients with persistent atrial fibrillation was found to range from 85 to 190 ms. CONCLUSION: Cycle length mapping is capable of highlighting regions of pathologic refractory properties. In combination with complementary substrate mapping approaches, the method fosters confidence to enhance the treatment of atrial fibrillation beyond pulmonary vein isolation particularly in patients with complex activation patterns.
Background: Rate-varying S1S2 stimulation protocols can be used for restitution studies to characterize atrial substrate, ionic remodeling, and atrial fibrillation risk. Clinical restitution studies with numerous patients create large amounts of these data. Thus, an automated pipeline to evaluate clinically acquired S1S2 stimulation protocol data necessitates consistent, robust, reproducible, and precise evaluation of local activation times, electrogram amplitude, and conduction velocity. Here, we present the CVAR-Seg pipeline, developed focusing on three challenges: (i) No previous knowledge of the stimulation parameters is available, thus, arbitrary protocols are supported. (ii) The pipeline remains robust under different noise conditions. (iii) The pipeline supports segmentation of atrial activities in close temporal proximity to the stimulation artifact, which is challenging due to larger amplitude and slope of the stimulus compared to the atrial activity. Methods and Results: The S1 basic cycle length was estimated by time interval detection. Stimulation time windows were segmented by detecting synchronous peaks in different channels surpassing an amplitude threshold and identifying time intervals between detected stimuli. Elimination of the stimulation artifact by a matched filter allowed detection of local activation times in temporal proximity. A non-linear signal energy operator was used to segment periods of atrial activity. Geodesic and Euclidean inter electrode distances allowed approximation of conduction velocity. The automatic segmentation performance of the CVAR-Seg pipeline was evaluated on 37 synthetic datasets with decreasing signal-to-noise ratios. Noise was modeled by reconstructing the frequency spectrum of clinical noise. The pipeline retained a median local activation time error below a single sample (1 ms) for signal-to-noise ratios as low as 0 dB representing a high clinical noise level. As a proof of concept, the pipeline was tested on a CARTO case of a paroxysmal atrial fibrillation patient and yielded plausible restitution curves for conduction speed and amplitude. Conclusion: The proposed openly available CVAR-Seg pipeline promises fast, fully automated, robust, and accurate evaluations of atrial signals even with low signal-to-noise ratios. This is achieved by solving the proximity problem of stimulation and atrial activity to enable standardized evaluation without introducing human bias for large data sets.
Book Chapters (2)
A. Loewe, G. Luongo, and J. Sánchez. Machine Learning for Clinical Electrophysiology. In Innovative Treatment Strategies for Clinical Electrophysiology, Springer Nature Singapore, Singapore, pp. 93-109, 2022
Introduction: Multi-scale computational models of cardiac electrophysiology are used to investigate complex phenomena such as cardiac arrhythmias, its therapies and the testing of drugs or medical devices. While a couple of software solutions exist, none fully meets the needs of the community. In particular, newcomers to the field often have to go through a very steep learning curve which could be facilitated by dedicated user interfaces, documentation, and training material. Outcome: openCARP is an open cardiac electrophysiology simulator, released to the community to advance the computational cardiology field by making state-of-the-art simulations accessible. It aims to achieve this by supporting self-driven learning. To this end, an online platform is available containing educational video tutorials, user and developer-oriented documentation, detailed examples, and a question-and-answer system. The software is written in C++. We provide binary packages, a Docker container, and a CMake-based compilation workflow, making the installation process simple. The software can fully scale from desktop to high-performance computers. Nightly tests are run to ensure the consistency of the simulator based on predefined reference solutions, keeping a high standard of quality for all its components. openCARP interoperates with different input/output standard data formats. Additionally, sustainability is achieved through automated continuous integration to generate not only software packages, but also documentation and content for the community platform. Furthermore, carputils provides a user-friendly environment to create complex, multi-scale simulations that are shareable and reproducible. Conclusion: In conclusion, openCARP is a tailored software solution for the scientific community in the cardiac electrophysiology field and contributes to increasing use and reproducibility of in-silico experiments.
Clinical and computational studies highlighted the role of atrial anatomy for atrial fibrillation vulnerability. However, personalized computational models are often generated from electroanatomical maps, which might lack important anatomical structures like the appendages, or from imaging data which are potentially affected by segmentation uncertainty. A bi-atrial statistical shape model (SSM) covering relevant structures for electrophysiological simulations was shown to cover atrial shape variability. We hypothesized that it could, therefore, also be used to infer the shape of missing structures and deliver ready-to-use models to assess atrial fibrillation vulnerability in silico. We implemented a highly automatized pipeline to generate a personalized computational model by fitting the SSM to the clinically acquired geometries. We applied our framework to a geometry coming from an electroanatomical map and one derived from magnetic resonance images (MRI). Only landmarks belonging to the left atrium and no information from the right atrium were used in the fitting process. The left atrium surface-to-surface distance between electroanatomical map and a fitted instance of the SSM was 2.26+-1.95 mm. The distance between MRI segmentation and SSM was 2.07+-1.56 mm and 3.59+-2.84 mm in the left and right atrium, respectively. Our semi-automatic pipeline provides ready-to-use personalized computational models representing the original anatomy well by fitting a SSM. We were able to infer the shape of the right atrium even in the case of using information only from the left atrium.
The SuLMaSS project  will advance, develop, build, evaluate, and test infrastructure for sustainable lifecycle management of scientific software. The infrastructure is tested and evaluated by an existing cardiac electrophysiology simulation software project, which is currently in the prototype state and will be advanced towards optimal usability and a large and active user community. Thus, SuLMaSS is focused on designing and implementing application-oriented e-research technologies and the impact is three-fold: - Provision of a high quality, user-friendly cardiac electrophysiology simulation software package that accommodates attestable needs of the scientific community. - Delivery of infrastructure components for testing, safe-keeping, referencing, and versioning of all phases of the lifecycle of scientific software. - Serve as a best practice example for sustainable scientific software management. Scientific software development in Germany and beyond shall benefit through both the aforementioned best practice role model and the advanced infrastructure that will, in part, be available for external projects as well. With adding value for the wider scientific cardiac electrophysiology community, the software will be available under an open source license and be provided for a large share of people and research groups that can potentially leverage computational cardiac modeling methods. Institutional infrastructure will be extended to explore, evaluate and establish the basis for research software development regarding testing, usage, maintenance and support. The cardiac electrophysiology simulator will drive and showcase the infrastructure formation, thus serving as a lighthouse project. The developed infrastructure can be used by other scientific software projects in future and aims to support the full research lifecycle from exploration through conclusive analysis and publication, to archival, and sharing of data and source code, thus increasing the quality of research results. Moreover it will foster a community-based collaborative development and improve sustainability of research software.
Nowadays, a large share of the global population is affected by heart rhythm disorders. Computational modelling is a useful tool for understanding the dynamics of cardiac arrhythmias. Several recent clinical and experimental studies suggest that atrial fibrillation is maintained by re-entrant drivers (e.g. rotors). As a consequence, numerous works have addressed atrial arrhythmogenicity of a given electrophysiological model using different methods to simulate the perpetuation of re-entrant activity. However, no common procedure to test atrial fibrillation vulnerability has yet been defined. Here, we systematically evaluate and compare two state-of-the-art methods. The first one is rapid extrastimulus pacing from rim of the four pulmonary veins. The second consists of placing phase singularities in the atria, estimating an activation time map by solving the Eikonal equation and finally using this as initial condition for the electrical cardiac propagation simulation. In this way, we are forcing the wavefronts to follow re-entrant circuits with low computational cost thus less simulation time. We aim to identify a methodology to quantify arrhythmia vulnerability on patient-specific atrial geometries and substrates. We will proceed with in-silico experiments, comparing the results of these two methods to initiate re-entrant activity, checking the influence of the different parameters on the dynamics on the re-entrant drivers and finally extracting a valid set of parameters allowing to reliably assess re-entry vulnerability. The final objective is to come up with an easily reproducible minimal set of simulations to assess vulnerability of a particular atrial substrate (cellular and tissue model) or of distinct anatomical atrial geometries to arrhythmic episodes. Given the great need of exploring susceptibility to atrial arrhythmias, i.e. after a first ablation procedure, this study can provide a useful tool to test new treatment strategies and to learn how to prevent the onset and progression of atrial fibrillation.