A team of researchers, led by Keiichi Fukuda, at Keio University School of Medicine, Tokyo, Japan, has now determined in rodents how congestive heart failure triggers substantive changes to the nerves that control heart function.
The research appears in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Heart function is controlled by both the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system. In congestive heart failure, increased activation of the sympathetic nervous system causes damage to the heart muscle, a decline in heart function, and potentially lethal abnormal heartbeats.
In the study, failing rat heart muscle cells were found to secrete molecules known as gp130-signaling cytokines that caused sympathetic nerves to change the molecule that they used to communicate from norepinephrine to acetylcholine.
The clinical significance of these observations in rodents was highlighted by the fact that the sympathetic nervous system in the heart of patients with congestive heart failure showed evidence of the same switch to reliance on acetylcholine for communication.
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