Sudden Heart Rate Reduction Upon Optogenetic Release of Acetylcholine From Cardiac Parasympathetic Neurons in Perfused Hearts

Frontiers in Physiology
Angel MorenoMatthew W Kay


The balance of sympathetic and parasympathetic tone provides exquisite control of heart rate and contractility and has also been shown to modulate coronary flow and inflammation. Understanding how autonomic balance is altered by cardiac disease is an active area of research, and developing new ways to control this balance provides insights into disease therapies. However, achieving acute neuron-specific stimulation of autonomic neurons can be difficult in experiments that measure the acute effects of nerve stimulation on the heart. Conventional electrical and pharmacological approaches can be spatially and temporally non-selective. Cell-specific expression of light-activated channels (channelrhodopsin, ChR2) is a powerful approach that enables control of the timing and distribution of cellular stimulation using light. We present such an optogenetic approach where parasympathetic cardiac neurons are selectively photoactivated at high temporal precision to initiate cholinergic-mediated slowing of heart rate. Mice were crossbred to express ChR2 in peripheral cholinergic neurons using Cre-Lox recombination driven by a choline acetyltransferase (ChAT) promoter. Hearts from adult mice were excised, perfused, and the epicardium was il...Continue Reading


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