It is well known that heart failure (HF) typically coexists with atrial fibrillation (AF). However, until now, no clear mechanism has been established that relates HF to AF. In this study, we apply a multiscale computational framework to establish a mechanistic link between atrial myocyte structural remodeling in HF and AF. Using a spatially distributed model of calcium (Ca) signaling, we show that disruption of the spatial relationship between L-type Ca channels (LCCs) and ryanodine receptors results in markedly increased Ca content of the sarcoplasmic reticulum (SR). This increase in SR load is due to changes in the balance between Ca entry via LCCs and Ca extrusion due to the sodium-calcium exchanger after an altered spatial relationship between these signaling proteins. Next, we show that the increased SR load in atrial myocytes predisposes these cells to subcellular Ca waves that occur during the action potential (AP) and are triggered by LCC openings. These waves are common in atrial cells because of the absence of a well-developed t-tubule system in most of these cells. This distinct spatial architecture allows for the presence of a large pool of orphaned ryanodine receptors, which can fire and sustain Ca waves during the AP. Finally, we incorporate our atrial cell model in two-dimensional tissue simulations and demonstrate that triggered wave generation in cells leads to electrical waves in tissue that tend to fractionate to form wavelets of excitation. This fractionation is driven by the underlying stochasticity of subcellular Ca waves, which perturbs AP repolarization and consequently induces localized conduction block in tissue. We outline the mechanism for this effect and argue that it may explain the propensity for atrial arrhythmias in HF.
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