Atriums, Axons, Calcitonin gene related peptide, Mice, Substance P


Degeneration of nociceptive afferent axons and terminals in the heart is associated with painless sudden cardiac death. However, innervation, distribution and morphological structures of sympathetic cardiac nociceptive afferent axons and terminals have not yet been fully characterized. The aim of the present study is to characterize the density, arrangement, and structural features of differentiated sympathetic afferent axons and terminals in whole-mount FVB mouse atria. FVB mice (3-6 months old) were perfused and the tissues were fixed. The right and left atria were processed with immunohistochemistry. Calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) and substance P (SP) are two neuropeptides which have been widely used to label sympathetic nociceptive afferent axons in many tissues. CGRP (rabbit anti-CGRP) and SP (Goat anti-SP) primary antibodies were applied, followed by Alexa Fluor 594 and 660 conjugated secondary antibodies. Whole-mount preparations of right and left atria were examined using a laser scanning confocal microscope. We found that 1) CGRP immunoreactive (IR) axon bundles innervated the right and left atria including the auricle and entrance area of the superior vena cava, the inferior vena cava, left precaval vein and pulmonary veins. Large axon bundles entered the area from the major veins and bifurcated into smaller axon bundles and single axon fibers to form terminal end-nets and free endings in the epicardium at each region with a similar pattern. In the atrial muscle layer, varicose CGRP-IR axons had close contacts with muscle fibers. In addition, CGRP-IR axons iv terminated in the intrinsic cardiac ganglia (ICGs) with varicosities surrounding individual ganglionic principle neurons (PNs). In the aortic arch, the CGRP-IR fibers exhibited similar terminal structures to those seen in the atria. 2) SP-IR axons also projected to the right and left atria and aorta. Similar to CGRP-IR axons, these SP-IR axons also formed end-nets and free endings in these areas. In cardiac ganglia, SP-IR axons formed varicose endings around many individual PNs. However, a salient difference was found: There appeared to be fewer SPIR axons and terminals than CGRP-IR axons and terminals in the atria. 3) None of the cardiac PNs in ICG were CGRP-IR or SP-IR. 4) Many SP-IR axon terminals around PNs within ICGs and atrial muscles were found to have colocalized expression of CGRP-IR. Collectively, our data for the first time documented the distribution patterns and morphology of sympathetic afferent axons and terminals in each region of the atria in the mouse model. This will provide a foundation for future analysis of the pathological changes of sympathetic afferent nerves in the atria in different disease models (e.g., diabetes, sleep apnea, and aging). This study was supported by NIH R01 HL- 79636.


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Graduation Date





Cheng, Zixi (Jack)


Master of Science (M.S.)


College of Medicine


Molecular Biology and Microbiology








Release Date

December 2010

Length of Campus-only Access


Access Status

Masters Thesis (Open Access)


Dissertations, Academic -- Medicine, Medicine -- Dissertations, Academic