Endogenous inhibition of the trigeminally evoked neurotransmission to cardiac vagal neurons by muscarinic acetylcholine receptors

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Journal of Neurophysiology








Stimulation of the nasal mucosa by airborne irritants or water evokes a pronounced bradycardia accompanied by peripheral vasoconstriction and apnea. The dive response, which includes the trigeminocardiac reflex, is among the most powerful autonomic responses. These responses slow the heart rate and reduce myocardial oxygen consumption. Although normally cardioprotective, exaggeration of this reflex can be detrimental and has been implicated in cardiorespiratory diseases, including sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). An essential component of the diving response and trigeminocardiac reflex is activation of the parasympathetic cardiac vagal neurons (CVNs) in the nucleus ambiguus that control heart rate. This study examined the involvement of cholinergic receptors in trigeminally evoked excitatory postsynaptic currents in CVNs in an in vitro preparation from rats. CVNs were identified using a retrograde tracer injected into the fat pads at the base of the heart. Application of the acetylcholinesterase inhibitor neostigmine significantly decreased the amplitude of glutamatergic neurotransmission to CVNs on stimulation of trigeminal fibers. Whereas nicotine did not have any effect on the glutamatergic responses, the muscarinic acetylcholine receptor (mAChR) agonist bethanechol significantly decreased the excitatory neurotransmission. Atropine, an mAChR antagonist, facilitated these responses indicating this trigeminally evoked brain stem pathway in vitro is endogenously inhibited by mAChRs. Tropicamide, an m4 mAChR antagonist, prevented the inhibitory action of the muscarinic agonist bethanechol. These results indicate that the glutamatergic synaptic neurotransmission in the trigeminally evoked pathway to CVNs is endogenously inhibited in vitro by m4 mAChRs. Copyright © 2010 The American Physiological Society.

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