This paper demonstrates quantitatively, using streamlined mathematics, how the transmembrane ionic currents in individual cardiac muscle cells act to produce the body surface potentials of the electrocardiogram (ECG). From fundamental principles of electrostatics, anatomy, and physiology, one can characterize the strength of apparent dipoles along a wavefront of depolarization in a local volume of myocardium. Net transmembrane flow of ionic current in actively depolarizing or repolarizing tissue induces extracellular current flow, which sets up a field of electrical potential that resembles that of a dipole. The local dipole strength depends upon the tissue cross section, the tissue resistivity, the resting membrane potential, the membrane capacitance, the volume fraction of intracellular fluid, the time rate of change of the action potential, and the cell radius. There are no unknown, "free" parameters. There are no arbitrary scale factors. Body surface potentials are a function of the summed local dipole strengths, directions, and distances from the measuring point. Calculations of body surface potentials can be made for the scenarios of depolarization (QRS complex), repolarization (T wave) and localized acute injury (ST segment shifts) and agree well with experimentally measured potentials. This simplified predictive dipole theory provides a solution to the forward problem of electrocardiography that explains from a physiological perspective how the collective depolarization and repolarization of individual cardiac muscle cells create body surface potentials in health and disease.


This is the author accepted manuscript of Babbs CF, Quantitative prediction of body surface potentials from myocardial action potentials using a summed dipole model, Cardiovascular Engineering 9, 59-71, 2009. Copyright Springer, the version of record is available at doi:10.1007/s10558-009-9075-2.


Action potential; Body surface potential mapping; Electrocardiography; Forward problem; Ionic currents; Transmembrane potential; Vector

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