Clonidine, an α2-receptor agonist, diminishes GABAergic neurotransmission to cardiac vagal neurons in the nucleus ambiguus

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Brain Research






Adrenergic; Ambiguus; Cardiac; Clonidine; Parasympathetic; Vagal


In hypertension, thereisanautonomicimbalancein which sympathetic activity dominates over parasympathetic control. Parasympathetic activity to the heart originates from cardiac vagal neurons located in the nucleus ambiguus. Presympathetic neurons that project to sympathetic neurons in the spinal cord are located in the ventral brainstem in close proximity to cardiac vagal neurons, and many of these presympathetic neurons are catecholaminergic. In addition to their projection to the spinal cord, many of these presympathetic neurons have axon collaterals that arborize into neighboring cardiorespiratory locations and likely release norepinephrine onto nearby neurons. Activation of α2-adrenergic receptors in the central nervous system evokes a diverse range of physiological effects, including reducing blood pressure. This study tests whether clonidine, an α2-adrenergic receptor agonist, alters excitatory glutamatergic, and/or inhibitory GABAergic or glycinergic synaptic neurotransmission to cardiac vagal neurons in the nucleus ambiguus. Cardiac vagal neurons were identified in an in vitro brainstem slice preparation, and synaptic events were recording using whole cell voltage clamp methodologies. Clonidine significantly inhibited GABAergic neurotransmission but had no effect on glycinergic or glutamatergic pathways to cardiac vagal neurons. This diminished inhibitory GABAergic neurotransmission to cardiac vagal neurons would increase parasympathetic activity to the heart, decreasing heart rate and blood pressure. The results presented here provide a cellular substrate for the clinical use of clonidine as a treatment for hypertension as well as a role in alleviating posttraumatic stress disorder by evoking an increase in parasympathetic cardiac vagal activity, and a decrease in heart rate and blood pressure. © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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