Origin of the sinus impulse

Richard B. Schuessler, John P. Boineau, Burt I. Bromberg

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


Origin of the Sinus Impulse. It was generally accepted that the site of normal impulse origin within the atria was a single static focus within the sinus node. This review will examine how this model of impulse origin came about and has evolved. Early on, conflicting data suggested that the Sinus node focus was not static and changed with interventions that changed heart rate, such as vagal stimulation. Furthermore, even with removal of the sinus node, a normal atrial rhythm was generated. High-resolution mapping in humans and dogs showed that the initiation of the impulse was dynamic and could be multicentric, with more than one focus initiating a single beat. Shifts in the site of origin correlated with changes in rate and were consistent with P wave changes routinely observed in the standard ECG. These studies suggested multiple pacemakers were responsible for impulse initiation. However, it was not clear how these widespread pacemakers were coordinated to function synchronously. Recent canine data suggest that the node may be partially insulated from the surrounding atrium, resulting in multicentric origin starting from a single site within the node. What has evolved is a model of impulse origin with a sinus node having discrete exit sites and a dominant pacemaker within the node that can shift to other nodal sites. Complex and changing conduction out of the node, coupled with extranodal pacemakers, which can assume dominance over the node, combine with the autonomic nervous system to control heart rate and the pattern of impulse origin within the atria.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)263-274
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of cardiovascular electrophysiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1996


  • atrium
  • heart rate
  • impulse origin
  • sinoartrial conduction
  • sinus node
  • subsidiary pacemakers


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