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Cardiovasc Res. 1999 Jan;41(1):41-54.

Myocardial ischaemia and the cardiac nervous system.

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Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Faculty of Medicine, Dalhousie University, Halifax, N.S., Canada.


The intrinsic cardiac nervous system has been classically considered to contain only parasympathetic efferent postganglionic neurones which receive inputs from medullary parasympathetic efferent preganglionic neurones. In such a view, intrinsic cardiac ganglia act as simple relay stations of parasympathetic efferent neuronal input to the heart, the major autonomic control of the heart purported to reside solely in the brainstem and spinal cord. Data collected over the past two decades indicate that processing occurs within the mammalian intrinsic cardiac nervous system which involves afferent neurones, local circuit neurones (interconnecting neurones) as well as both sympathetic and parasympathetic efferent postganglionic neurones. As such, intrinsic cardiac ganglionic interactions represent the organ component of the hierarchy of intrathoracic nested feedback control loops which provide rapid and appropriate reflex coordination of efferent autonomic neuronal outflow to the heart. In such a concept, the intrinsic cardiac nervous system acts as a distributive processor, integrating parasympathetic and sympathetic efferent centrifugal information to the heart in addition to centripetal information arising from cardiac sensory neurites. A number of neurochemicals have been shown to influence the interneuronal interactions which occur within the intrathoracic cardiac nervous system. For instance, pharmacological interventions that modify beta-adrenergic or angiotensin II receptors affect cardiomyocyte function not only directly, but indirectly by influencing the capacity of intrathoracic neurones to regulate cardiomyocytes. Thus, current pharmacological management of heart disease may influence cardiomyocyte function directly as well as indirectly secondary to modifying the cardiac nervous system. This review presents a brief summary of developing concepts about the role of the cardiac nervous system in regulating the normal heart. In addition, it provides some tentative ideas concerning the importance of this nervous system in cardiac disease states with a view to stimulating further interest in neural control of the heart so that appropriate neurocardiological strategies can be devised for the management of heart disease.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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