A critical review of the afferent pathways and the potential chemical mediators involved in cardiac pain

S T Meller, G F Gebhart
Neuroscience 1992, 48 (3): 501-24
There is considerable evidence that on the anterior surface of the heart (which is usually supplied by the left anterior descending and the proximal part of the left circumflex coronary arteries), sympathetic efferent reflexes characterized by tachycardia and/or hypertension predominate following experimental or pathological perturbations. These cardiovascular reflexes are accompanied by an increase in presumed nociceptive afferent traffic and, in pathological condition, by pain. In these experiments, there is generally no effect of vagotomy on afferent nerve traffic, and lower cervical and upper thoracic sympathectomies help provide relief from angina. On the other hand, experimental or pathological perturbations involving the inferior-posterior surface of the heart (supplied by the right and distal parts of the left circumflex coronary arteries), are characterized by vagal efferent reflexes, resulting in bradycardia and/or hypotension. These reflexes are accompanied by an increase in vagal afferent nerve traffic and, in pathological conditions, by pain. In these experiments, vagotomy generally abolishes such cardiovascular reflexes, and lower cervical and upper thoracic sympathectomies are not effective in the relief from angina. Although cardiac sympathetic afferents are unquestionably involved in the central transmission of nociceptive information from the heart, it is also likely that there is a contributing role from the vagus in cardiac pain. It is important experimentally to understand the natural stimulus that gives rise to angina. In the clinical situation, a decrease in coronary blood flow or an increase in the metabolic demands of the myocardium due to increased work are obvious precipitating factors which lead to myocardial ischemia. In the experimental situation, occlusion of the coronary arteries is often used as a stimulus which mimics myocardial ischemia. As people who frequently experience angina have varying degrees of coronary artery disease, it is difficult to accept that the state of the coronary arteries of the normal experimental animal bear any resemblance to the state of the coronary arteries under pathological conditions. That is, the gain of homeostatic reflexes, the basal concentrations of neuroactive substances in the plasma, the myocardium and the afferent terminals, the excitability of the afferents, access of chemical mediators (e.g. bradykinin, 5-HT, adenosine, histamine, prostaglandins, potassium, lactate), to afferents, and the overall function of the animal are all significantly different. We have no idea how control mechanisms have been altered in the person with severe coronary artery disease compared to the normal patient or the "normal" experimental animal.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)

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