Mechanistic Insights into Sympathetic Neuronal Regeneration: Multitracer Molecular Imaging of Catecholamine Handling After Cardiac Transplantation

Paco E Bravo, Riikka Lautamäki, Debra Carter, Daniel P Holt, Stephan G Nekolla, Robert F Dannals, Stuart D Russell, Frank M Bengel
Circulation. Cardiovascular Imaging 2015, 8 (8): e003507

BACKGROUND: Post-transplant reinnervation is a unique model to study sympathetic neuronal regeneration in vivo. The differential role of subcellular mechanisms of catecholamine handling in nerve terminals has not been investigated.

METHODS AND RESULTS: Three different carbon-11-labeled catecholamines were used for positron emission tomography of transport (C-11 m-hydroxyephedrine, HED), vesicular storage (C-11 epinephrine, EPI), and metabolic degradation (C-11 phenylephrine). A 2-day protocol was used, including quantification of myocardial blood flow by N-13 ammonia. Resting myocardial blood flow and EPI, HED and phenylephrine retention were homogeneous in healthy volunteers (n=7). Washout was only observed for phenylephrine (T(1/2) 49±6 min). In nonrejecting, otherwise healthy heart transplant recipients (>1 year after surgery, n=10), resting myocardial blood flow was also homogenous. Regional catecholamine uptake of varying degrees was observed in the anterior left ventricular wall and septum. Overall, 24±19% of left ventricle showed HED uptake levels comparable with healthy volunteers, whereas it was only 8±7% for EPI (P=0.004 versus HED). Phenylephrine washout was not different from healthy volunteers in the area with restored EPI and HED retention (T(1/2) 41±7 min; P>0.05), but was significantly enhanced in the EPI/HED mismatch area (T(1/2) 36±8 min; P=0.008), consistent with inefficient vesicular storage and enhanced metabolic degradation.

CONCLUSIONS: Regeneration of subcellular components of sympathetic nerve terminal function does not occur simultaneously. In the reinnervating transplanted heart, a region with normal catecholamine transport and vesicular storage is surrounded by a borderzone, where transport is already restored but vesicular storage remains inefficient, suggesting that vesicular storage is a more delicate mechanism. This observation may have implications for other pathologies involving cardiac autonomic innervation.

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