Widespread distribution and rate differentiation of the atrial pacemaker complex

J. P. Boineau, R. B. Schuessler, D. B. Hackel

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87 Scopus citations


In a study to examine the basis of rate-related changes in the electrocardiographic P wave the authors found a multicentric rather than unifocal origin of the atrial depolarization wave in dogs. Three to five pacemakers, or origin points, were distributed over a 30- to 40-mm area compared to the 11-mm size of the sinus node. Two or three of the sites could excite simultaneously, or one specific site would dominate excitation. Each separate origin point dominated excitation within a specific range of heart rates, and on reaching either the upper or lower limits of this range, a new focus abruptly dominated and initiated the atrial wave front. The authors have obtained evidence to suggest that these findings may be explained by a widely distributed atrial pacemaker complex. The spatial distribution of this system exceeded the dimensions of the canine sinus node by a factor of three to four times. The pacemaker centers, although distributed, were consistently located at specific positions along the superior vena caval-right atrial junction. Also, each separate pacemaker site appeared functionally differentiated to generate a specific range of heart rates. It is proposed that in addition to the sinus node there are other specialized atrial pacemaker centers, and that this specialization, including the differentiated response and coordination, is conferred by focal receptor characteristics and their inputs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)H406-H415
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1980
Externally publishedYes


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