Atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common, progressive tachyarrhythmia is associated with serious complications, such as stroke and heart failure. Early recognition of AF, essential to prevent disease progression and therapy failure, is hampered by the lack of accurate diagnostic serum biomarkers to identify the AF stage. As we previously showed mitochondrial dysfunction to drive experimental and human AF, we evaluated whether cell–free circulating mitochondrial DNA (cfc-mtDNA) represents a potential serum marker.
Therefore, the levels of two mtDNA genes, COX3 and ND1, were measured in 84 control patients (C), 59 patients undergoing cardiac surgery without a history of AF (SR), 100 paroxysmal (PAF), 116 persistent (PeAF), and 20 longstanding-persistent (LS-PeAF) AF patients undergoing either cardiac surgery or AF treatment (electrical cardioversion or pulmonary vein isolation).
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Cfc-mtDNA levels were significantly increased in PAF patients undergoing AF treatment, especially in males and patients with AF recurrence after AF treatment. In PeAF and LS-PeAF, cfc-mtDNA levels gradually decreased. Importantly, cfc-mtDNA in serum may originate from cardiomyocytes, as in vitro tachypaced cardiomyocytes release mtDNA in the medium.
The findings suggest that cfc-mtDNA is associated with AF stage, especially in males, and with patients at risk for AF recurrence after treatment.