Cryosurgery for Atrial Fibrillation: Physiologic Basis for Creating Optimal Cryolesions

James L. Cox*, S. Chris Malaisrie, Andrei Churyla, Chris Mehta, Jane Kruse, Olga N. Kislitsina, Patrick M. McCarthy

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Background: Although cryosurgery has been used to treat cardiac arrhythmias for nearly 5 decades, the mechanism of action and the surgical technique that produces optimal cryolesions for the treatment of atrial fibrillation are still poorly understood. This has resulted in surgical outcomes that can be improved by a better understanding the mechanisms of cryothermia ablation and the proper surgical techniques that take advantage of those mechanisms. Methods: The cryobiology underlying cryosurgical ablation is described, as are the nuances of cryosurgical techniques that ensure the reliable creation of contiguous, uniformly transmural atrial cryolesions. The oft-misunderstood “2-minute rule” for the application of cryothermia is clarified in detail, along with its variations that depend on target myocardial temperature. Results: The creation of optimal cryolesions depends on cryoprobe temperature, the temperature of the target myocardium, the duration of cryothermia application, and the presence or absence of a “heat sink” or “cooling sink” created by intracavitary blood circulation. Cryothermia kills myocardial cells during both the freezing and thawing phases of cryoablation cycle. The critical lethal temperature for myocardium is –30°C. The slower the target tissue thaws, the higher the percentage of cell death. Conclusions: The availability of cryosurgical techniques has revolutionized the surgical treatment of atrial fibrillation. By utilizing modern cryosurgical devices and adhering to the technical principles described, surgeons can now perform surgical procedures for atrial fibrillation that are quicker, safer, and as effective as the standard Maze-III/IV procedure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-362
Number of pages9
JournalAnnals of Thoracic Surgery
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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