Insights into atrial function using speckle tracking strain: report of a new, modified method
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Speckle tracking echocardiography (STE) is a relatively new imaging modality that enables the direct measurement of active contractile myocardial tissue in an offline analysis. This is accomplished through a software algorithm that tracks collections of acoustic markers, known as 'speckles', that are unique to a given section of myocardium. By measuring the displacement of these 'speckles' as the heart contracts and relaxes, STE produces parameters of the strain, or percent change in length, exhibited by the myocardium. As multiple studies have shown, this strain data produced by tracking of the global left atrium has the ability to accurately assess the physiologic functions of the atrium as a reservoir, conduit and booster pump in the cardiac cycle. Despite these valuable correlations, there are noted problems with STE regarding acoustic cluttering and disappearance of 'speckles' that can occur as the selected region of interest moves out of the field of view or becomes obscured. These problems may be increased when tracking an extended region of myocardium. Therefore, this present study sought to test a new method of assessing left atrial function with STE strain analysis by focusing on a concise region of the atrium, specifically the interatrial septum. To test this, the echocardiograms of 37 patients were obtained and grouped according to the designation of their cardiac function as normal (n=11), abnormal (n=12), or exhibiting signs of cardiac amyloidosis (n=14). In all patients, STE strain analysis was performed on the both the global left atrium and the interatrial septum. Measurements of the mean peak strain observed in the resultant strain curves were recorded for both STE scans of each patient. The curves produced by the tracking the segments of the entire atrium (6 segments) and interatrial septum (3 segments) were compared based on the exhibited changes in strain seen in the relative shapes of the curves, as well as the spread of the segmental strain curves about the calculated mean strain curve. Additionally, the number of segments that were either unsuccessfully or incorrectly tracked was recorded as a measure of the accuracy of STE. As a final step, the interatrial strain curves of four selected patients in the various states of ventricular diastolic dysfunction were chosen and compared with data obtained from scans of mitral flow echocardiography and tissue Doppler imaging (TDI) in an attempt to correlate the exhibited changes in strain shown in the interatrial septum with the physiologic functions of the atrium during ventricular diastole. The results showed that the mean peak strain of the global atrial strain trace decreased from normal (41.32%±10.8) to abnormal (21.69%±13.8) to the amyloid group (10.41%±6.9). This trend was echoed in the mean peak strain measured in the interatrial septum, as measured in normal (64.2%±15.6), abnormal (28.37%±13.4) and amyloid groups (12.21%±12.1). When the strain curves of the entire atrium and interatrial septum were compared, they demonstrated similar patterns in the timing of changes in strain, however the strain curves of the individual interatrial septum segments showed a much more concise grouping about the mean strain curve and were less likely to exhibit discordant segmental strain curves that deviated from the pattern established by all other segments in the trace. Additionally, within the STE scans of the global atrium, the interatrial septum exhibited a higher percentage of successfully tracked segments than did the lateral atrial wall; this trend was universally exhibited in all three groups. Finally, the interatrial septum strain curves, mitral flow echocardiography and TDI scans all demonstrated similar indications of left atrial function in the four selected patients. Ultimately, STE strain analysis of the interatrial septum appears to be a more accurate method of tracking the atrial myocardium than STE tracing of the global left atrium. Furthermore, it shows viable potential as a method for assessing the global physiologic function of the left atrium, as indicated by the similarities between the trends exhibited by these STE scans and the data gathered from scans produced by mitral flow echocardiography and TDI.