Electrical conduction system of the heart

Heart; conduction system. 1. SA node. 2. AV node. 3. Bundle of His. 8. Septum
Overview of the system of electrical conduction which maintains the rhythmical contraction of the heart
Principle of ECG formation. Note that the red lines represent the depolarization wave, not bloodflow.

The electrical conduction system of the heart transmits signals generated usually by the sinoatrial node to cause contraction of the heart muscle.

- Electrical conduction system of the heart

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Muscular organ in most animals that pumps blood through the blood vessels of the circulatory system.

Human heart during an autopsy
Computer-generated animation of a beating human heart
The human heart is in the middle of the thorax, with its apex pointing to the left.
Heart being dissected showing right and left ventricles, from above
Frontal section showing papillary muscles attached to the tricuspid valve on the right and to the mitral valve on the left via chordae tendineae.
Layers of the heart wall, including visceral and parietal pericardium
The swirling pattern of myocardium helps the heart pump effectively
Arterial supply to the heart (red), with other areas labelled (blue).
Autonomic innervation of the heart
Development of the human heart during the first eight weeks (top) and the formation of the heart chambers (bottom). In this figure, the blue and red colors represent blood inflow and outflow (not venous and arterial blood). Initially, all venous blood flows from the tail/atria to the ventricles/head, a very different pattern from that of an adult.
Blood flow through the valves
The cardiac cycle as correlated to the ECG
The x-axis reflects time with a recording of the heart sounds. The y-axis represents pressure.
Transmission of a cardiac action potential through the heart's conduction system
Conduction system of the heart
The prepotential is due to a slow influx of sodium ions until the threshold is reached followed by a rapid depolarization and repolarization. The prepotential accounts for the membrane reaching threshold and initiates the spontaneous depolarization and contraction of the cell; there is no resting potential.
3D echocardiogram showing the mitral valve (right), tricuspid and mitral valves (top left) and aortic valve (top right).
The closure of the heart valves causes the heart sounds.
Cardiac cycle shown against ECG
Heart and its blood vessels, by Leonardo da Vinci, 15th century
Animated heart
Elize Ryd making a heart sign at a concert in 2018
The tube-like heart (green) of the mosquito Anopheles gambiae extends horizontally across the body, interlinked with the diamond-shaped wing muscles (also green) and surrounded by pericardial cells (red). Blue depicts cell nuclei.
Basic arthropod body structure – heart shown in red
The human heart viewed from the front
The human heart viewed from behind
The coronary circulation
The human heart viewed from the front and from behind
Frontal section of the human heart
An anatomical specimen of the heart
Heart illustration with circulatory system
Animated Heart 3d Model Rendered in Computer

These generate a current that causes the heart to contract, traveling through the atrioventricular node and along the conduction system of the heart.

Bundle of His

Collection of heart muscle cells specialized for electrical conduction.

Isolated heart conduction system showing bundle of His

As part of the electrical conduction system of the heart, it transmits the electrical impulses from the atrioventricular node (located between the atria and the ventricles) to the point of the apex of the fascicular branches via the bundle branches.

Cardiac pacemaker

Initiated by electrical impulses known as action potentials.

Image showing the cardiac pacemaker or SA node, the normal pacemaker within the electrical conduction system of the heart.
Schematic representation of the sinoatrial node and the atrioventricular bundle of His. The location of the SA node is shown in blue. The bundle, represented in red, originates near the orifice of the coronary sinus, undergoes slight enlargement to form the AV node. The AV node tapers down into the bundle of HIS, which passes into the ventricular septum and divides into two bundle branches, the left and right bundles. The ultimate distribution cannot be completely shown in this diagram.

Sometimes an ectopic pacemaker sets the pace, if the SA node is damaged or if the electrical conduction system of the heart has problems.


Too fast or too slow.

Ventricular fibrillation (VF) showing disorganized electrical activity producing a spiked tracing on an electrocardiogram (ECG)
Broad classification of arrhythmias according to region of heart required to sustain the rhythm
Normal sinus rhythm, with solid black arrows pointing to normal P waves representative of normal sinus node function, followed by a pause in sinus node activity (resulting in a transient loss of heartbeats). Note that the P wave that disrupts the pause (indicated by the dashed arrow) does not look like the previous (normal) P waves – this last P wave is arising from a different part of the atrium, representing an escape rhythm.

Arrhythmias are due to problems with the electrical conduction system of the heart.

Sinoatrial node

Group of cells known as pacemaker cells, located in the wall of the right atrium of the heart.

Sinoatrial node shown at 1. The rest of the conduction system of the heart is shown in blue.
Figure 2: Low magnification stained image of the SA node (center-right on image) and its surrounding tissue. The SA node surrounds the sinoatrial nodal artery, seen as the open lumen. Cardiac muscle cells of the right atrium can be seen to the left of the node, and fat tissue to the right.
Figure 3: Sinoatrial node action potential waveform, outlining major ion currents involved (downward deflection indicates ions moving into the cell, upwards deflection indicates ions flowing out of the cell).
Schematic representation of the atrioventricular bundle

These cells can produce an electrical impulse (action potential) that travels through the electrical conduction system of the heart, causing it to contract.

Cardiac muscle

One of three types of vertebrate muscle tissue, with the other two being skeletal muscle and smooth muscle.

3D rendering showing thick myocardium within the heart wall.
The swirling musculature of the heart ensures effective pumping of blood.
Cardiac muscle
Illustration of a cardiac muscle cell.
Intercalated discs are part of the cardiac muscle cell sarcolemma and they contain gap junctions and desmosomes.
Dog cardiac muscle (400X)

Other potential roles for fibroblasts include electrical insulation of the cardiac conduction system, and the ability to transform into other cell types including cardiomyocytes and adipocytes.

Artificial cardiac pacemaker

Medical device that generates electrical impulses delivered by electrodes to cause the heart muscle chambers (the upper, or atria and/or the lower, or ventricles) to contract and therefore pump blood.

St. Jude Medical single-lead pacemaker with ruler (released in 2005 )
An ECG in a person with an atrial pacemaker. Note the circle around one of the sharp electrical spikes in the position where one would expect the P wave.
An ECG of a person with a dual chamber pacemaker
ECG rhythm strip of a threshold determination in a patient with a temporary (epicardial) ventricular pacemaker. The epicardial pacemaker leads were placed after the patient collapsed during aortic valve surgery. In the first half of the tracing, pacemaker stimuli at 60 beats per minute result in a wide QRS complex with a right bundle branch block pattern. Progressively weaker pacing stimuli are administered, which results in asystole in the second half of the tracing. At the end of the tracing, distortion results from muscle contractions due to a (short) hypoxic seizure. Because decreased pacemaker stimuli do not result in a ventricular escape rhythm, the patient can be said to be pacemaker-dependent and needs a definitive pacemaker.
Right atrial and right ventricular leads as visualized under x-ray during a pacemaker implant procedure. The atrial lead is the curved one making a U shape in the upper left part of the figure.
Single-chamber VVIR/AAIR pacemaker
Dual-chamber DDDR pacemaker
Three leads can be seen in this example of a cardiac resynchronization device: a right atrial lead (solid black arrow), a right ventricular lead (dashed black arrow), and a coronary sinus lead (red arrow). The coronary sinus lead wraps around the outside of the left ventricle, enabling pacing of the left ventricle. Note that the right ventricular lead in this case has two thickened aspects that represent conduction coils and that the generator is larger than typical pacemaker generators, demonstrating that this device is both a pacemaker and a cardioverter-defibrillator, capable of delivering electrical shocks for dangerously fast abnormal ventricular rhythms.
Posteroanterior and lateral chest radiographs of a pacemaker with normally located leads in the right atrium (white arrow) and right ventricle (black arrowhead), respectively.
Two types of remote monitoring devices used by pacemaker patients
In 1958, Arne Larsson (1915–2001) became the first to receive an implantable pacemaker. He had 26 devices during his life and campaigned for other patients needing pacemakers.
Illustration of implanted cardiac pacemaker showing locations of cardiac pacemaker leads
The first lithium-iodide cell-powered pacemaker. Invented by Anthony Adducci and Art Schwalm. Cardiac Pacemakers Inc. 1972

By doing so, this device replaces and/or regulates the function of the electrical conduction system of the heart.

Atrioventricular node

Image showing the conduction system of the heart. The AV node is labelled 2.
Isolated heart conduction system showing atrioventricular node

The atrioventricular node or AV node electrically connects the heart's atria and ventricles to coordinate beating in the top of the heart; it is part of the electrical conduction system of the heart.

Purkinje fibers

The Purkinje fibers (often incorrectly ; Purkinje tissue or subendocardial branches) are located in the inner ventricular walls of the heart, just beneath the endocardium in a space called the subendocardium.

Isolated heart conduction system showing Purkinje fibers
Purkinje fiber just beneath the endocardium.

Purkinje fibers allow the heart's conduction system to create synchronized contractions of its ventricles, and are essential for maintaining a consistent heart rhythm.


Process of producing an electrocardiogram , a recording of the heart's electrical activity.

ECG of a heart in normal sinus rhythm
Normal 12-lead ECG
A 12-lead ECG of a 26-year-old male with an incomplete right bundle branch block (RBBB)
A patient undergoing an ECG
An EKG electrode
Proper placement of the limb electrodes. The limb electrodes can be far down on the limbs or close to the hips/shoulders as long as they are placed symmetrically.
Placement of the precordial electrodes
The limb leads and augmented limb leads (Wilson's central terminal is used as the negative pole for the latter in this representation)
Diagram showing the contiguous leads in the same color in the standard 12-lead layout
QRS is upright in a lead when its axis is aligned with that lead's vector
Schematic representation of a normal ECG
Measuring time and voltage with ECG graph paper
Animation of a normal ECG wave
Formation of limb waveforms during a pulse
An early commercial ECG device (1911)
ECG from 1957
Use of real time monitoring of the heart in an intensive care unit in a German hospital (2015), the monitoring screen above the patient displaying an electrocardiogram and various values of parameters of the heart like heart rate and blood pressure

Interpretation of the ECG is fundamentally about understanding the electrical conduction system of the heart.