Researchers Create the First 3D Map of Cardiac Neurons

The Advent of Neuron 3D Maps

A research team from Thomas Jefferson University has completed the first three-dimensional map of neurons in the human heart. The research team said that the information revealed fundamental insights about neurons and heart attacks and other heart diseases. The research team said that although the brain is the main controller of the heart, the heart also has its own "little brain" called the intracardiac nervous system (ICN). ICN supports heart health and protects the heart muscle in the event of a heart attack, but it is still unclear how it accomplishes these functions.
People’s understanding of ICN is very poor. Scientists don’t know where they are in the heart, how they are connected, or what their molecular properties are. Now, scientists at the university have been able to answer these questions in detail. Researchers collaborated with scientists from different research groups and industry partners to establish a two-pronged approach.
One of the methods involves a new imaging technique called a blade scanning microscope, which allows researchers to build three precise models of the entire rodent heart. This research marks the first time the technology has been used in cardiac research. The second method uses a technique called laser capture microdissection to sample a single neuron for gene expression analysis and accurately map each position within the three-dimensional structure of the heart.

Overview of the Nervous System in the Heart

The 3D map created reveals the previously unknown complexity of ICN. The researchers found that the neurons that make up the ICN form a coherent ribbon cluster on the base of the heart, where the veins and arteries of the heart enter and leave. The ICN also extends along the length of the left atrium to the back of the heart. They are also located close to certain key heart structures, such as atrial nodes.
The research team compared the hearts of male and female rats and found that the spatial organization and gene expression of these neurons are different by gender. Scientists say that because they know the positional relationship between neurons and the heart structure, they can now ask questions such as whether stimulating a location or selectively stimulating specific neurons will make a difference in heart function. The team stated that they have created an infinite basis for future research.

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