Substance P nerve terminals synapse upon negative chronotropic vagal motoneurons

V. John Massari, Tannis A. Johnson, Ida J. Llewellyn-Smith, Philip J. Gatti

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    36 Citations (Scopus)


    Previous data indicate that there are anatomically segregated and physiologically independent parasympathetic ganglia on the surface of the heart which are capable of selective control of sino-atrial rate, atrio-ventricular conduction, and atrial contractility. We have injected a retrograde tracer into the cardiac ganglion which selectively regulates heart rate (the SA ganglion). Medullary tissues were processed for the histochemical visualization of retrogradely labeled neurons and for the immunohistochemical detection of the neurotransmitter substance P (SP) by dual labeling light and electron microscopic methods. Negative chronotropic retrogradely labeled cells were found in a long slender column in the ventrolateral nucleus ambiguus (NA-VL) which enlarged somewhat at the level of the area postrema. These cells were found bilaterally, but they were asymmetrically distributed. Half the animals showed a pronounced right side predominance in retrograde labeling, while the other half of the animals showed a lesser left side predominance. These observations may help to explain some of the controversy in the literature concerning the relative influence of the right and left vagus nerves on sinus rate. Ultrastructural examination demonstrated axo-somatic and axo-dendritic contacts between SP nerve terminals and retrogradely labeled negative chronotropic NA-VL neurons. SP immunoreactivity was often associated with large dense-core vesicles in terminals forming either symmetric or asymmetric synapses. These observations provide a potential anatomical substrate for the centrally mediated bradycardia elicited by microinjections of SP into the NA. SP immunoreactive terminals were also observed to make axo-somatic, axo-dendritic, and axo-axonic synapses with unlabeled neurons in NA-VL. These data suggest that SP may also modulate the activity of other vagal preganglionic neurons.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)275-287
    Number of pages13
    JournalBrain Research
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 17 Oct 1994


    • Bradycardia
    • Ganglia
    • Nucleus ambiguus
    • Retrograde transport
    • Sino-atrial node
    • Substance P
    • Synapse
    • Ultrastructure
    • Vagus nerve


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