In humans, there is a documented association between anxiety disorders and cardiovascular disease. Putative underlying mechanisms may include an impairment of the autonomic nervous system control of cardiac function. The primary objective of the present study was to characterize cardiac autonomic modulation and susceptibility to arrhythmias in genetic lines of rats that differ largely in their anxiety level. To reach this goal, electrocardiographic recordings were performed in high-anxiety behavior (HAB, n=10) and low-anxiety behavior (LAB, n=10) rats at rest, during stressful stimuli and under autonomic pharmacological manipulations, and analyzed by means of time- and frequency-domain indexes of heart rate variability. During resting conditions, HAB rats displayed a reduced heart rate variability, mostly in terms of lower parasympathetic (vagal) modulation compared to LAB rats. In HAB rats, this relatively low cardiac vagal control was associated with smaller heart rate responsiveness to acute stressors compared to LAB counterparts. In addition, beta-adrenergic pharmacological stimulation induced a larger incidence of ventricular tachyarrhythmias in HABs compared to LABs. At sacrifice, a moderate increase in heart-body weight ratio was observed in HAB rats. We conclude that high levels of anxiety-related behavior in rats are associated with signs of i) impaired autonomic modulation of heart rate (low vagally-mediated heart rate variability), ii) poor adaptive heart rate responsiveness to stressful stimuli, iii) increased arrhythmia susceptibility, and iv) cardiac hypertrophy. These results highlight the utility of the HAB/LAB model for investigating the mechanistic basis of the comorbidity between anxiety disorders and cardiovascular disease.
Advanced age alone appears to be a risk factor for increased susceptibility to cardiac arrhythmias. We previously observed in the aged rat heart that sinus rhythm ventricular activation is delayed and characterized by abnormal epicardial patterns although conduction velocity is normal. While these findings relate to an advanced stage of aging, it is not yet known when and how ventricular electrical impairment originates and which is the underlying substrate. To address these points, we performed continuous telemetry ECG recordings in freely moving rats over a six-month period to monitor ECG waveform changes, heart rate variability and the incidence of cardiac arrhythmias. At the end of the study, we performed in-vivo multiple lead epicardial recordings and histopathology of cardiac tissue. We found that the duration of ECG waves and intervals gradually increased and heart rate variability gradually decreased with age. Moreover, the incidence of cardiac arrhythmias gradually increased, with atrial arrhythmias exceeding ventricular arrhythmias. Epicardial multiple lead recordings confirmed abnormalities in ventricular activation patterns, likely attributable to distal conducting system dysfunctions. Microscopic analysis of aged heart specimens revealed multifocal connective tissue deposition and perinuclear myocytolysis in the atria. Our results demonstrate that aging gradually modifies the terminal part of the specialized cardiac conducting system, creating a substrate for increased arrhythmogenesis. These findings may open new therapeutic options in the management of cardiac arrhythmias in the elderly population.
Personality characteristics, e.g. aggressiveness, have long been associated with an increased risk of cardiac disease. However, the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. In this study we used a rodent model for characterizing cardiac autonomic modulation in rats that differ widely in their level of aggressive behavior. To reach this goal, high-aggressive (HA, n?=?10) and non-aggressive (NA, n?=?10) rats were selected from a population (n?=?121) of adult male Wild-type Groningen rats on the basis of their latency time to attack (ALT, s) a male intruder in a resident-intruder test lasting 600 s. In order to obtain information on their cardiac autonomic modulation, ECG recordings were subsequently obtained via radiotelemetry at rest, during stressful stimuli and under autonomic pharmacological manipulations, and analyzed by means of time- and frequency-domain indexes of heart rate variability. During resting conditions, HA rats (ALT<90 s) displayed reduced heart rate variability, mostly in terms of lower vagal modulation compared to NA rats (ALT>600 s). Exposure to stressful stimuli (i.e. restraint and psychosocial stress) provoked similar tachycardic responses between the two groups. However, under stress conditions HA rats displayed a reduced vagal antagonism and an increased incidence of tachyarrhythmias compared to NA rats. In addition, beta-adrenergic pharmacological stimulation induced a much larger incidence of ventricular tachyarrhythmias in HA rats compared to NA counterparts. These findings are consistent with the view that high levels of aggressive behavior in rats are associated to signs of cardiac autonomic impairment and increased arrhythmogenic susceptibility that may predict vulnerability to cardiac morbidity and mortality.
In humans, there is unequivocal evidence of an association between anxiety states and altered respiratory function. Despite this, the link between anxiety and respiration has been poorly evaluated in experimental animals. The primary objective of the present study was to investigate the hypothesis that genetic lines of rats that differ largely in their anxiety level would display matching alterations in respiration. To reach this goal, respiration was recorded in high-anxiety behavior (HAB, n = 10) and low-anxiety behavior (LAB, n = 10) male rats using whole-body plethysmography. In resting state, respiratory rate was higher in HABs (85 ± 2 cycles per minute, cpm) than LABs (67 ± 2 cpm, p<0.05). During initial testing into the plethysmograph and during a restraint test, HAB rats spent less time at high-frequency sniffing compared to LAB rats. In addition, HAB rats did not habituate in terms of respiratory response to repetitive acoustic stressful stimuli. Finally, HAB rats exhibited a larger incidence of sighs during free exploration of the plethysmograph and under stress conditions. We conclude that: i) HAB rats showed respiratory changes (elevated resting respiratory rate, reduced sniffing in novel environment, increased incidence of sighs, and no habituation of the respiratory response to repetitive stimuli) that resemble those observed in anxious and panic patients, and ii) respiratory patterns may represent a promising way for assessing anxiety states in preclinical studies.
Our aim was to assess the impact of motor activity and of arousing stimuli on respiratory rate in the awake rats. The study was performed in male adult Sprague-Dawley (SD, n=5) and Hooded Wistar (HW, n=5) rats instrumented for ECG telemetry. Respiratory rate was recorded using whole-body plethysmograph, with a piezoelectric sensor attached for the simultaneous assessment of motor activity. All motor activity was found to be associated with an immediate increase in respiratory rate that remained elevated for the whole duration of movement; this was reflected by: i) bimodal distribution of respiratory intervals (modes for slow peak: 336+/-19 and 532+/-80 ms for HW and SD, p<0.05; modes for fast peak 128+/-6 and 132+/-7 ms for HW and SD, NS); and ii) a tight correlation between total movement time and total time of tachypnoea, with an R(2) ranging 0.96-0.99 (n=10, p<0001). The extent of motor-related tachypnoea was significantly correlated with the intensity of associated movement. Mild alerting stimuli produced stereotyped tachypnoeic responses, without affecting heart rate: tapping the chamber raised respiratory rate from 117+/-7 to 430+/-15 cpm; sudden side move--from 134+/-13 to 487+/-16 cpm, and turning on lights--from 136+/-12 to 507+/-14 cpm (n=10; p<0.01 for all; no inter-strain differences). We conclude that: i) sniffing is an integral part of the generalized arousal response and does not depend on the modality of sensory stimuli; ii) tachypnoea is a sensitive index of arousal; and iii) respiratory rate is tightly correlated with motor activity.
Despite a well-documented association between stress and depression with cardiac morbidity and mortality, there is no satisfactory explanation for the mechanisms linking affective and cardiac disorders. This study investigated cardiac electrophysiological properties in an animal model of depression.
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