Hypertension (HTN) is the single greatest risk factor for potentially fatal cardiovascular diseases. One cause of HTN is inappropriately increased sympathetic nervous system activity, suggesting that restoring the autonomic nervous balance may be an effective means of HTN treatment. Here, we studied the potential of vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) to treat chronic HTN and cardiac arrhythmias through stimulation of the right cervical vagus nerve in hypertensive rats. Dahl salt-sensitive rats (n = 12) were given a high salt diet to induce HTN. After 6 weeks, rats were randomized into two groups: HTNSham and HTN-VNS, in which VNS was provided to HTN-VNS group for 4 weeks. In vivo blood pressure and electrocardiogram activities were monitored continuously by an implantable telemetry system. After 10 weeks, rats were euthanized and their hearts were extracted for ex vivo electrophysiological studies using high-resolution optical mapping. Six weeks of high salt diet significantly increased both mean arterial pressure (MAP) and pulse pressure, demonstrating successful induction of HTN in all rats. After 4 weeks of VNS treatment, the increase in MAP and the number of arrhythmia episodes in HTN-VNS rats was significantly attenuated when compared to those observed in HTN-Sham rats. VNS treatment also induced changes in electrophysiological properties of the heart, such as reduction in action potential duration (APD) during rapid drive pacing, slope of APD restitution, spatial dispersion of APD, and increase in conduction velocity of impulse propagation. Overall, these results provide further evidence for the therapeutic efficacy of VNS in HTN and HTN-related heart diseases.
- Optical mapping
- Vagus nerve stimulation