BACKGROUND: Large animal models are important in atrial fibrillation (AF) research, as they can be used to study the pathophysiology of AF and new therapeutic approaches. Unlike other animal models, horses spontaneously develop AF and could therefore serve as a bona fide model in AF research. We therefore aimed to study the electrical, functional and structural remodelling caused by chronic AF in a horse model.
METHOD: Nine female horses were included in the study, with six horses tachypaced into self-sustained AF and three that served as a time-matched sham-operated control group. Acceleration in atrial fibrillatory rate (AFR), changes in electrocardiographic and echocardiographic variables and response to medical treatment (flecainide 2 mg/kg) were recorded over a period of 2 months. At the end of the study, changes in ion channel expression and fibrosis were measured and compared between the two groups.
RESULTS: AFR increased from 299 ± 33 fibrillations per minute (fpm) to 376 ± 12 fpm (p < 0.05) and atrial function (active left atrial fractional area change) decreased significantly during the study (p < 0.05). No changes were observed in heart rate or ventricular function. The AF group had more atrial fibrosis compared to the control group (p < 0.05). No differences in ion channel expression were observed.
CONCLUSION: Horses with induced AF show signs of atrial remodelling that are similar to humans and other animal models.