• cardiovascular regulation;
  • autonomic nervous system;
  • tract tracing;
  • heart;
  • cortex


The anatomy of cardiac activity-regulating circuitry was studied with retrograde transneuronal viral labelling after pseudorabies virus injections into different parts of the rat heart. Transection of the spinal cord at Th1 was used to reveal selectively the parasympathetic neuronal networks. Virus-labelled sympathetic preganglionic cells were found in the Th1-Th7 thoracic intermediolateral cell groups, with some additional infections at Th8-Thll after inoculations of the ventricular myocardium. After ventricular injections the thoracic spinal labelling pattern was bilateral and after right atrial infection it was contralateral. Approximately 20% of the parasympathetic preganglionic cells were located in the dorsal motor vagus nucleus; the rest occupied positions in the peri-ambiguus area ventrolateral to the nucleus ambiguus. Here and in the ventrolateral reticular formation myocardiotopy was found. Supraspinal transneuronal infections were bilateral, showed no apparent side dominance and were found in the nucleus of the solitary tract, the area postrema, the raphe nuclei, the A5 group, the parabrachial region, the periaqueductal grey, the hypothalamus, the amygdala and the cortex, in particular the anterior cingulate, the frontal, prelimbic, infralimbic and insular cortices. Spinal transections at Th1 reduced the number of labelled cells, gave a right side labelling dominance and affected the infection patterns in the ventrolateral reticular area, the raphe nuclei, the periaqueductal grey matter, the perifornical and retrochiasmatic area and the rostra1 parts of the insular cortex. The latter structures are linked selectively to the sympathetic innervation of the heart. The anatomical and functional aspects of these findings are discussed in relation to the autonomic control of heart activity.