Journal Of Applied Physiology
Midthoracic spinal cord injury (SCI) is associated with enhanced sympathetic support of heart rate as well as myocardial damage related to calcium overload. The myocardial damage may elicit an enhanced sympathetic support of contractility to maintain ventricular function. In contrast, the level of inotropic drive may be reduced to match the lower afterload that results from the injury-induced reduction in arterial pressure. Accordingly, the inotropic response to midthoracic SCI may be increased or decreased but has not been investigated and therefore remains unknown. Furthermore, the altered ventricular function may be associated with anatomical changes in cardiac sympathetic innervation. To determine the inotropic drive following midthoracic SCI, a telemetry device was used for repeated measurements of left ventricular (LV) function, with and without beta-adrenergic receptor blockade, in rats before and after midthoracic SCI or sham SCI. In addition, NGF content (ELISA) and dendritic arborization (cholera toxin B immunohistochemistry and Sholl analysis) of cardiac-projecting sympathetic postganglionic neurons in the stellate ganglia were determined. Midthoracic SCI was associated with an enhanced sympathetic support of heart rate, dP/dt(+), and dP/dt(-). Importantly, cardiac function was lower following blockade of the sympathetic nervous system in rats with midthoracic SCI compared with sham-operated rats. Finally, these functional neuroplastic changes were associated with an increased NGF content and structural neuroplasticity within the stellate ganglia. Results document impaired LV function with codirectional changes in chronotropic and inotropic responses following midthoracic SCI. These functional changes were associated with a dynamic interaction between the heart and its sympathetic innervation.