Characterization of sinoatrial parasympathetic innervation in humans

Kara J. Quan, Jai H. Lee, Alexander S. Geha, Lee A. Biblo, George F. Van Hare, Judith A. Mackall, Mark D. Carlson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

42 Scopus citations


Introduction: The response to sinoatrial parasympathetic nerve stimulation (shortened atrial refractoriness) was used to determine the atrial distribution of these nerve fibers in humans. We hypothesized that, in humans, parasympathetic nerves that innervate the sinoatrial node also innervate the right atrium and that the greatest density of innervation is near the sinoatrial nodal fat pad. Methods and Results: Temporary epicardial wire electrodes were sutured in pairs in the sinoatrial nodal fat pad, high right atrium, and right ventricle by direct visualization during coronary artery bypass surgery in nine patients. Appropriate electrode placement was confirmed by electrically stimulating the fat pad in the operating room to prolong sinus cycle length by 50%. Experiments were performed in the electrophysiology laboratory 1 to 5 days after surgery. Programmed atrial stimulation was performed via an endocardial electrode catheter advanced to the right atrium. The catheter tip electrode was moved in 1-cm concentric zones around the epicardial wires by fluoroscopic guidance. Atrial refractoriness was determined in the presence and absence of sinoatrial parasympathetic nerve stimulation at each catheter site. In 8 of 9 patients, parasympathetic nerve stimulation reproducibly prolonged sinus cycle length by 50%. There was no effect on AV nodal conduction (no prolongation of PR interval) and no change in AV nodal refractoriness. Atrial effective refractory periods reproducibly shortened in response to parasympathetic nerve stimulation in 1-cm zones up to 3 cm surrounding the fat pad, by a mean (± SEM) of 26.6 ± 4.3 msec (zone 1), 11.4 ± 1.8 msec (zone 2), and 10.0 ± 2.5 msec (zone 3), respectively (P = 0.0001). At distances > 3 cm from the fat pad, the effective refractory period did not shorten. Conclusion: Stimulation of parasympathetic nerves that innervate the sinoatrial node shortened atrial refractoriness in humans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1060-1065
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of cardiovascular electrophysiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999


  • Electrical stimulation
  • Parasympathetic innervation
  • Sinoatrial node


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