Background: Knowledge of the anesthetic effects on atrial and atrioventricular (AV) nodal electrophysiologic properties is fundamental to understand the modulatory role of anesthetics on the pathogenesis of supraventricular tachycardias, and to individualize the perioperative management of patients with supraventricular tachycardias or AV nodal conduction disturbances. Therefore the authors studied the effects of three commonly used volatile anesthetics on the electrophysiologic properties of the atrium and AV node. Methods: The concentration-dependent electrophysiologic effects of halothane, isoflurane, and desflurane (0-2 minimum alveolar concentration [MAC]) were studied in guinea pig Langendorff- perfused hearts fit with instruments to simultaneously measure atrial and AV nodal conduction times and atrial monophasic action potential duration. Atrial and AV nodal effective refractory periods were measured simultaneously using a computer-assisted premature stimulation protocol. The concentrations of anesthetics in the gas phase were monitored by an infrared gas analyzer. Results: Volatile anesthetics caused markedly different concentration- dependent effects on atrial conduction, repolarization, and refractoriness, and on AV nodal function. At equianesthetic concentrations, halothane depressed atrial conduction the most, whereas desflurane caused the greatest shortening of atrial monophasic action potential duration. Halothane had no significant effect on atrial refractoriness, whereas at 2 MAC desflurane significantly shortened and isoflurane significantly prolonged atrial effective refractory periods by 18.1 ± 13.5% and 13.2 ± 14.7%, respectively. On an equi-MAC basis, the rank order of potency for the anesthetics to prolong AV nodal conduction time and AV nodal ERP was halothane > desflurane > isoflurane. Conclusion: The different electrophysiologic effects of volatile anesthetics in the atrium and AV node suggest that these agents may modulate atrial dysrhythmogenesis in distinctly different ways.