Atrial fibrillation is common following cardiac and non-cardiac thoracic surgery and is associated with poorer outcomes, including: increased risk of stroke, hemodynamic instability, prolonged hospital stay, and increased mortality. Current understanding suggests that post-op atrial fibrillation results from the interplay of local and systemic operative inflammation, increased sympathetic activity, perhaps the release of free radical species in the perioperative period, and the patient’s underlying cardiac substrate. Cardiac denervation following orthotopic heart transplant (OHT) using modern bicaval techniques presents a unique opportunity to study the relative contribution of the autonomic nervous system to post-op atrial fibrillation susceptibility. Observational studies show a reduced incidence of post-operative atrial fibrillation following orthotopic heart transplant compared to other cardiac and thoracic surgeries. Moreover, comparison of atrial fibrillation rates with double lung transplant recipients suggests that cardiac denervation has a contribution apart from surgical pulmonary vein isolation alone. This report reviews current concepts of the mechanisms of post-op atrial fibrillation with a focus on the role of the autonomic nervous system, the autonomic regulation of the native heart, and evidence regarding the impact of cardiac denervation following OHT.
Credits: Neeraj Sathnur , Jian-Ming Li , Darshan Krishnappa , David G Benditt