Structure-function relationship in the AV junction

Igor R. Efimov*, Vladimir P. Nikolski, Florence Rothenberg, Ian D. Greener, Jue Li, Halina Dobrzynski, Mark Boyett

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

66 Scopus citations


In the normal heart, the atrioventricular node (AVN) is part of the sole pathway between the atria and ventricles. Under normal physiological conditions, the AVN controls appropriate frequency-dependent delay of contractions. The AVN also plays an important role in pathology: it protects ventricles during atrial tachyarrhythmia, and during sinoatrial node failure an AV junctional pacemaker can drive the heart. Finally, the AV junction provides an anatomical substrate for reentry. Using fluorescent imaging with voltage-sensitive dyes and immunohistochemistry, we have investigated the structure-function relationship of the AV junction during normal conduction, reentry, and junctional rhythm. We identified molecular and structural heterogeneity that provides a substrate for the dual-pathway AVN conduction. We observed heterogeneity of expression of three isoforms of connexins: Cx43, Cx45, and Cx40. We identified the site of origin of junctional rhythm at the posterior extension of the AV node in 79% (n = 14) of the studied hearts. This structure was similar to the compact AV node as determined by morphologic and molecular investigations. In particular, both the posterior extension and the compact node express the pacemaking channel HCN4 (responsible for the IF current) and neurofilament 160. In the rabbit heart, AV junction conduction, reentrant arrhythmia, and spontaneous rhythm are governed by heterogeneity of expression of several isoforms of gap junctions and ion channels. Uniform neurofilament expression suggests that AV nodal posterior extensions are an integral part of the cardiac pacemaking and conduction system. On the other hand, differential expression of Cx isoforms in this region provides an explanation of longitudinal dissociation, dual-pathway electrophysiology, and AV nodal reentrant arrhythmogenesis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)952-965
Number of pages14
JournalAnatomical Record - Part A Discoveries in Molecular, Cellular, and Evolutionary Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Oct 2004


  • Atrio-ventricular arrythmia
  • Atrio-ventricular junction
  • Junctional rythm
  • Optical mapping

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)


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