Virtual electrode theory explains pacing threshold increase caused by cardiac tissue damage

Aleksandre T. Sambelashvili, Vladimir P. Nikolski, Igor R. Efimov*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


The virtual electrode polarization (VEP) effect is believed to play a key role in electrical stimulation of heart muscle. However, under certain conditions, including clinically, its existence and importance remain unknown. We investigated the influence of acute tissue damage produced by continuous pacing with strong current (40-mA, 4-ms biphasic pulses with 4-Hz frequency for 5 min) on stimulus-generated VEPs and pacing thresholds. A fluorescent optical mapping technique was used to obtain stimulus-induced transmembrane potential distribution around a pacing electrode applied to the ventricular surface of a Langendorff-perfused rabbit heart (n = 5). Maps and pacing thresholds were recorded before and after tissue damage. Spatial extents of electroporation and cell uncoupling were assessed by propidium iodide (n = 2) and connexin43 (n = 3) antibody staining, respectively. On the basis of these data, passive and active three-dimensional bidomain models were built to determine VEP patterns and thresholds for different-sized areas of the damaged region. Electrophysiological results showed that acute tissue damage led to disappearance of the VEP with an associated significant increase in pacing thresholds. Damage was expressed in electroporation and cell uncoupling within a ∼ 1.0-mm-diameter area around the tip of the electrode. According to computer simulations, cell uncoupling, rather than electroporation, might be the direct cause of VEP elimination and threshold increase, which was nonlinearly dependent on the size of the damaged region. Fiber rotation with depth did not substantially affect the numerical results. The study explains failure to stimulate damaged tissue within the concepts of the VEP theory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H2183-H2194
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6 55-6
StatePublished - Jun 2004


  • Bidomain
  • Electrophysiology
  • Stimulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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