Intercalated Disk Extracellular Nanodomain Expansion in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation


Aims: Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained arrhythmia. Previous evidence in animal models suggests that the gap junction (GJ) adjacent nanodomain - perinexus - is a site capable of independent intercellular communication via ephaptic transmission. Perinexal expansion is associated with slowed conduction and increased ventricular arrhythmias in animal models, but has not been studied in human tissue. The purpose of this study was to characterize the perinexus in humans and determine if perinexal expansion associates with AF. Methods: Atrial appendages from 39 patients (pts) undergoing cardiac surgery were fixed for immunofluorescence and transmission electron microscopy (TEM). Intercalated disk distribution of the cardiac sodium channel Nav1.5, its beta 1 subunit, and connexin43 (C x 43) was determined by confocal immunofluorescence. Perinexal width (Wp) from TEM was manually segmented by two blinded observers using ImageJ software. Results: Nav1.5, beta 1, and C x 43 are co-adjacent within intercalated disks of human atria, consistent with perinexal protein distributions in ventricular tissue of other species. TEM revealed that the GJ adjacent intermembrane separation in an individual perinexus does not change at distances greater than 30 nm from the GJ edge. Importantly, Wp is significantly wider in patients with a history of AF than in patients with no history of AF by approximately 3 nm, and Wp correlates with age (R = 0.7, p < 0.05). Conclusion: Human atrial myocytes have voltage-gated sodium channels in a dynamic intercellular cleft adjacent to GJs that is consistent with previous descriptions of the perinexus. Further, perinexal width is greater in patients with AF undergoing cardiac surgery than in those without.



atrial fibrillation, gap junctions, connexin43, perinexus, human