Postnatal sulfur dioxide exposure reversibly alters parasympathetic regulation of heart rate

Document Type

Journal Article

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Air pollution; Electrocardiography; Electrophysiology; Heart rate; Parasympathetic nervous system; Sulfur dioxide


Perinatal sulfur dioxide exposure disrupts parasympathetic regulation of cardiovascular activity. Here, we examine the relative risks of prenatal versus postnatal exposure to the air pollutant and the reversibility of the cardiovascular effects. Two groups of animals were used for this study. For prenatal exposure, pregnant Sprague-Dawley dams were exposed to 5 parts per million sulfur dioxide for 1 hour daily throughout gestation and with their pups after birth to medical-grade air through 6 days postnatal. For postnatal exposure, dams were exposed to air, and after delivery along with their pups to 5 parts per million sulfur dioxide through postnatal day 6. ECGs were recorded from pups on postnatal day 5 to examine changes in heart rate. Whole-cell patch-clamp electrophysiology was used to examine changes in neurotransmission to cardiac vagal neurons in the nucleus ambiguus on sulfur dioxide exposure. Postnatal sulfur dioxide exposure diminished glutamatergic neurotransmission to cardiac vagal neurons by 40.9% and increased heart rate, whereas prenatal exposure altered neither of these properties. When postnatal exposure concluded on postnatal day 5, excitatory neurotransmission remained decreased through day 6 and returned to basal levels by day 7. ECGs showed that heart rate remained elevated through day 6 and recovered by day 7. On activation of the parasympathetic diving reflex, the response was significantly blunted by postnatal sulfur dioxide exposure through day 7 but recovered by day 8. Postnatal, but not prenatal, exposure to sulfur dioxide can disrupt parasympathetic regulation of cardiovascular activity. Neonates can recover from these effects within 2 to 3 days of discontinued exposure. © 2013 American Heart Association, Inc.

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