Sympathetic and parasympathetic control of the heart is a classic example of norepinephrine (NE) and acetylcholine (ACh) triggering opposing actions. Sympathetic NE increases heart rate and contractility through activation of β receptors, whereas parasympathetic ACh slows the heart through muscarinic receptors. Sympathetic neurons can undergo a developmental transition from production of NE to ACh and we provide evidence that mouse cardiac sympathetic nerves transiently produce ACh after myocardial infarction (MI). ACh levels increased in viable heart tissue 10–14 d after MI, returning to control levels at 21 d, whereas NE levels were stable. At the same time, the genes required for ACh synthesis increased in stellate ganglia, which contain most of the sympathetic neurons projecting to the heart. Immunohistochemistry 14 d after MI revealed choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) in stellate sympathetic neurons and vesicular ACh transporter immunoreactivity in tyrosine hydroxylase-positive cardiac sympathetic fibers. Finally, selective deletion of the ChAT gene from adult sympathetic neurons prevented the infarction-induced increase in cardiac ACh. Deletion of the gp130 cytokine receptor from sympathetic neurons prevented the induction of cholinergic genes after MI, suggesting that inflammatory cytokines induce the transient acquisition of a cholinergic phenotype in cardiac sympathetic neurons. Ex vivo experiments examining the effect of NE and ACh on rabbit cardiac action potential duration revealed that ACh blunted both the NE-stimulated decrease in cardiac action potential duration and increase in myocyte calcium transients. This raises the possibility that sympathetic co-release of ACh and NE may impair adaptation to high heart rates and increase arrhythmia susceptibility.
- Myocardial infarction
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