Journal of Applied Physiology
Midthoracic spinal cord injury (SCI) is associated with enhanced cardiac sympathetic activity and reduced cardiac parasympathetic activity. The enhanced cardiac sympathetic activity is associated with sympathetic structural plasticity within the stellate ganglia, spinal cord segments T1-T4, and heart. However, changes to cardiac parasympathetic centers rostral to an experimental SCI are relatively unknown. Importantly, reduced vagal activity is a predictor of high mortality. Furthermore, this autonomic dysregulation promotes progressive left ventricular (LV) structural remodeling. Accordingly, we hypothesized that midthoracic spinal cord injury is associated with structural plasticity in premotor (preganglionic parasympathetic neurons) cardioinhibitory vagal neurons located within the nucleus ambiguus as well as LV structural remodeling. To test this hypothesis, dendritic arborization and morphology (cholera toxin B immunohistochemistry and Sholl analysis) of cardiac projecting premotor cardioinhibitory vagal neurons located within the nucleus ambiguus were determined in intact (sham transected) and thoracic level 5 transected (T5X) rats. In addition, LV chamber size, wall thickness, and collagen content (Masson trichrome stain and structural analysis) were determined. Midthoracic SCI was associated with structural changes within the nucleus ambiguus and heart. Specifically, following T5 spinal cord transection, there was a significant increase in cardiac parasympathetic preganglionic neuron dendritic arborization, soma area, maximum dendritic length, and number of intersections/animal. This parasympathetic structural remodeling was associated with a profound LV structural remodeling. Specifically, T5 spinal cord transection increased LV chamber area, reduced LV wall thickness, and increased collagen content. Accordingly, results document a dynamic interaction between the heart and its parasympathetic innervation.