Human sinoatrial node structure: 3D microanatomy of sinoatrial conduction pathways

Thomas A. Csepe, Jichao Zhao, Brian J. Hansen, Ning Li, Lidiya V. Sul, Praise Lim, Yufeng Wang, Orlando P. Simonetti, Ahmet Kilic, Peter J. Mohler, Paul M.L. Janssen, Vadim V. Fedorov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Scopus citations


Introduction: Despite a century of extensive study on the human sinoatrial node (SAN), the structure-to-function features of specialized SAN conduction pathways (SACP) are still unknown and debated. We report a new method for direct analysis of the SAN microstructure in optically-mapped human hearts with and without clinical history of SAN dysfunction. Methods: Two explanted donor human hearts were coronary-perfused and optically-mapped. Structural analyses of histological sections parallel to epicardium (~13-21 μm intervals) were integrated with optical maps to create 3D computational reconstructions of the SAN complex. High-resolution fiber fields were obtained using 3D Eigen-analysis of the structure tensor, and used to analyze SACP microstructure with a fiber-tracking approach. Results: Optical mapping revealed normal SAN activation of the atria through a lateral SACP proximal to the crista terminalis in Heart #1 but persistent SAN exit block in diseased Heart #2. 3D structural analysis displayed a functionally-observed SAN border composed of fibrosis, fat, and/or discontinuous fibers between SAN and atria, which was only crossed by several branching myofiber tracts in SACP regions. Computational 3D fiber-tracking revealed that myofiber tracts of SACPs created continuous connections between SAN #1 and atria, but in SAN #2, SACP region myofiber tracts were discontinuous due to fibrosis and fat. Conclusions: We developed a new integrative functional, structural and computational approach that allowed for the resolution of the specialized 3D microstructure of human SACPs for the first time. Application of this integrated approach will shed new light on the role of the specialized SAN microanatomy in maintaining sinus rhythm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)164-178
Number of pages15
JournalProgress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • 3D reconstruction
  • Fibrosis
  • Human sinoatrial node
  • Optical mapping
  • Sinoatrial conduction pathway
  • Sinus node dysfunction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Molecular Biology


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