Hypoxia recruits a respiratory-related excitatory pathway to brainstem premotor cardiac vagal neurons in animals exposed to prenatal nicotine

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Journal Article

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Ambiguus; Bradycardia; Cholinergic; Heart rate; Nicotinic; Parasympathetic


The most ubiquitous form of arrhythmia is respiratory sinus arrhythmia in which the heart beat slows during expiration and heart rate increases during inspiration. Whereas respiratory sinus arrhythmia benefits pulmonary gas exchange respiratory dysfunction presents a major challenge to the cardiorespiratory system. Hypoxia evokes a pronounced bradycardia mediated by increases in parasympathetic cardiac activity. It has been hypothesized that the fatal events in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) are exaggerated cardiorespiratory responses to hypoxia. This study tests whether premotor cardiac vagal neurons receive rhythmic respiratory-related excitatory synaptic inputs during normoxia and hypoxia, and if animals exposed to nicotine in the prenatal period have exaggerated responses to hypoxia. Premotor cardiac vagal neurons in the nucleus ambiguus were identified in rats by the presence of a fluorescent tracer in medullary slices that generate rhythmic inspiratory-related motor discharge. Respiratory activity was recorded from the hypoglossal nerve and excitatory synaptic events in cardiac vagal neurons were isolated using patch clamp techniques. Adult female rats were implanted with osmotic minipumps that delivered nicotine at a level approximately equivalent to those that occur in moderate to heavy smokers. During normal eupneic respiration, as well as during hypoxia, premotor cardiac vagal neurons from control animals did not receive any rhythmic respiratory-related excitatory inputs. However in animals exposed to nicotine throughout the prenatal period respiratory bursts during hypoxia dramatically increased the frequency of excitatory synaptic events in cardiac vagal neurons. In summary, in animals exposed to nicotine throughout the prenatal period, but not in unexposed animals, respiratory bursts that occur during hypoxia dramatically increase the frequency of excitatory synaptic events in cardiac vagal neurons. This study establishes a likely neurochemical mechanism for the heart rate responses to hypoxia and a link between prenatal nicotine exposure and exaggerated bradycardia responses during hypoxia that may contribute to sudden infant death syndrome. © 2005 Published by Elsevier Ltd on behalf of IBRO.

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