Evidence of Superior and Inferior Sinoatrial Nodes in the Mammalian Heart

Jaclyn A. Brennan, Qing Chen, Anna Gams, Jhansi Dyavanapalli, David Mendelowitz, Weiqun Peng, Igor R. Efimov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Objectives: This study sought to investigate the shift of leading pacemaker locations in healthy and failing mammalian hearts over the entire range of physiological heart rates (HRs), and to molecularly characterize spatial regions of spontaneous activity. Background: A normal heartbeat originates as an action potential in a group of pacemaker cells known as the sinoatrial node (SAN), located near the superior vena cava. HRs and the anatomical site of origin of pacemaker activity in the adult heart are known to dynamically change in response to various physiological inputs, yet the mechanism of this pacemaker shift is not well understood. Methods: Optical mapping was applied to ex vivo rat and human isolated right atrial tissues, and HRs were modulated with acetylcholine and isoproterenol. RNA sequencing was performed on tissue areas that elicited spontaneous activity, and comparisons were made to neighboring myocardial tissues. Results: Functional and molecular evidence identified and confirmed the presence of 2 competing right atrial pacemakers localized near the superior vena cava and the inferior vena cava—the superior SAN (sSAN) and inferior SAN (iSAN), respectively—which preferentially control the fast and slow HRs. Both of these regions were evident in non-failing rat and human hearts and maintained spontaneous activity in the rat heart when physically separated from one another. Molecular analysis of these 2 pacemaker regions revealed unique but similar transcriptional profiles, suggesting iSAN dominance when the sSAN is silent. Conclusions: The presence of 2 spatially distinct dominant pacemakers, sSAN and iSAN, in the mammalian heart clarifies previous identification of migrating pacemakers and corresponding changes in P-wave morphology in mammalian species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1827-1840
Number of pages14
JournalJACC: Clinical Electrophysiology
Issue number14
StatePublished - Dec 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • arrhythmias
  • optical mapping
  • pacemaker
  • sinoatrial node

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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