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Scientists identify key area that could sever communication between brain and heart in disease
Date:11/28/2011

A team of neuroscientists and anaesthetists, who have been using pioneering techniques to study how the brain regulates the heart, has identified a crucial part of the nervous system whose malfunction may account for an increased risk of death from heart failure. The findings, published online (ahead of print) in the Journal of Physiology, could lead to more targeted therapies to help reduce serious illness and death in cardiovascular disease.

The research team, led by Dr Tony Pickering and Professor Julian Paton from the University of Bristol and colleague Professor Robin McAllen from the Florey Neuroscience Institute in Melbourne, developed novel methods which enabled them to explore the activity of nerve cells as they control the beating heart.

The brain controls the heart through two divisions of the nervous system; parasympathetic (vagal) and sympathetic nerves. One of these nerves, the vagus, acts to slow heart rate as part of protective cardiovascular reflexes, which are vital for cardiac health. A loss of vagal control is a major risk factor in human cardiovascular diseases such as heart failure and hypertension.

Vagal information to the heart is transmitted through a special group of nerve cells that remarkably lie on and within the beating heart muscle. Until now, these important neurones have proved especially difficult to access and record in a system with preserved natural connections. However, academics at the Bristol Heart Institute and Bristol Neuroscience have developed a novel technique that allows the neurones to be held stable while the heart is still beating and their central neural connectivity remains intact.

Using this method the researchers were able to produce high-precision recordings from the cardiac ganglion neurones on the surface of the beating heart whilst retaining their inputs from the nervous system.

The results reveal how these neurones process their inputs and demonstr
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Contact: Caroline Clancy
caroline.clancy@bristol.ac.uk
44-117-928-8086
University of Bristol
Source:Eurekalert

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