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Vagal stimulation triggers peripheral vascular protection through the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway in a rat model of myocardial ischemia/reperfusion


Myocardial ischemia/reperfusion (I/R) induces inflammatory response that may lead to remote vascular injury. Vagal nerve elicits the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway by activating α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (α7nAChR). Nevertheless, the role of vagal nerve-mediated anti-inflammatory pathway in the vasculature has not been studied previously. Therefore, we aimed to clarify the potential role of vagal stimulation (VNS) in regulating remote vascular injury after myocardial I/R. Adult male Sprague–Dawley rats were subjected to VNS starting 15 min prior to ischemia until the end of reperfusion. VNS not only reduced infarct size and improved cardiac function, but also ameliorated myocardial I/R-induced dysfunctional vasoconstriction and vasodilatation and degradation of endothelial structure in mesenteric arteries. VNS decreased serum and vascular levels of tumor necrosis factor-α and IL-1β. Interestingly, in vivo microdialysis studies demonstrated that VNS increased ACh concentration in the mesenteric circulation. Furthermore, VNS up-regulated expressions of muscarinic ACh receptors-3 (M3AChR) and α7nAChR in mesenteric arteries. Preserved endothelial relaxations by VNS were inhibited by atropine or methyllycaconitine, indicating that functional protection was associated with M3 and α7nAChR activation. Finally, VNS increased STAT3 phosphorylation and inhibited NF-κB activation in mesenteric arteries, and these effects were abolished by α7nAChR shRNA treatment, indicating VNS-mediated anti-inflammatory effect mainly involved α7nAChR. These results demonstrated for the first time that VNS protected against remote vascular dysfunction, through the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway which is dependent on α7nAChR. Our findings represent a significant addition to the understanding of vagal nerve-mediated pathways and the potential roles they play in regulating the vasculature.

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We thank Prof. John Y-J. Shyy (Ohio State University) for the discussion about the experiment design. We also appreciate the technical support and materials from the electron microscope Center of Xi’an Jiaotong University. This work is supported by Major International (Regional) Joint Research Project of National Natural Science Foundation of China (No. 81120108002), National Natural Science Foundation of China (Key program, No. 30930105; General program, No. 30873058), CMB Distinguished Professorships Award (No. F510000/G16916404) and Natural Science Foundation of Shaanxi Province (No. 2012JZ4001).

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Correspondence to Wei-Jin Zang.

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M. Zhao and X. He contributed equally to this work.

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Zhao, M., He, X., Bi, X. et al. Vagal stimulation triggers peripheral vascular protection through the cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway in a rat model of myocardial ischemia/reperfusion. Basic Res Cardiol 108, 345 (2013).

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  • Cholinergic anti-inflammatory pathway
  • Peripheral vessels
  • Regional myocardial ischemia/reperfusion
  • Vagal nerve stimulation
  • α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors