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Animal studies suggest an anti-fibrillatory action of the vagus nerve on the ventricle, although the exact mechanism is controversial. Using a Langendorff perfused rat heart, we show that the acetylcholine analogue carbamylcholine raises ventricular fibrillation threshold (VFT) and flattens the electrical restitution curve. The anti-fibrillatory action of carbamylcholine was prevented by the nicotinic receptor antagonist mecamylamine, inhibitors of neuronal nitric oxide synthase (nNOS) and soluble guanylyl cyclase (sGC), and can be mimicked by the nitric oxide (NO) donor sodium nitroprusside. Carbamylcholine increased NO metabolite content in the coronary effluent and this was prevented by mecamylamine. The anti-fibrillatory action of both carbamylcholine and sodium nitroprusside was ultimately dependent on muscarinic receptor stimulation as all effects were blocked by atropine. These data demonstrate a protective effect of carbamylcholine on VFT that depends upon both muscarinic and nicotinic receptor stimulation, where the generation of NO is likely to be via a neuronal nNOS-sGC dependent pathway.Implantable cardiac vagal nerve stimulators are a promising treatment for ventricular arrhythmia in patients with heart failure. Animal studies suggest the anti-fibrillatory effect may be nitric oxide (NO) dependent, although the exact site of action is controversial. We investigated whether a stable analogue of acetylcholine could raise ventricular fibrillation threshold (VFT), and whether this was dependent on NO generation and/or muscarinic/nicotinic receptor stimulation. VFT was determined in Langendorff perfused rat hearts by burst pacing until sustained VF was induced. Carbamylcholine (CCh, 200 nmol l(-1) , n = 9) significantly (P < 0.05) reduced heart rate from 292 ± 8 to 224 ± 6 b.p.m. Independent of this heart rate change, CCh caused a significant increase in VFT (control 1.5 ± 0.3 mA, CCh 2.4 ± 0.4 mA, wash 1.1 ± 0.2 mA) and flattened the restitution curve (n = 6) derived from optically mapped action potentials. The effect of CCh on VFT was abolished by a muscarinic (atropine, 0.1 μmol l(-1) , n = 6) or a nicotinic receptor antagonist (mecamylamine, 10 μmol l(-1) , n = 6). CCh significantly increased NOx content in coronary effluent (n = 8), but not in the presence of mecamylamine (n = 8). The neuronal nitric oxide synthase inhibitor AAAN (N-(4S)-4-amino-5-[aminoethyl]aminopentyl-N'-nitroguanidine; 10 μmol l(-1) , n = 6) or soluble guanylate cyclase (sGC) inhibitor ODQ (1H-[1,2,4]oxadiazolo[4,3-a]quinoxalin-1-one; 10 μmol l(-1) , n = 6) prevented the rise in VFT with CCh. The NO donor sodium nitrprusside (10 μmol l(-1) , n = 8) mimicked the action of CCh on VFT, an effect that was also blocked by atropine (n = 10). These data demonstrate a protective effect of CCh on VFT that depends upon both muscarinic and nicotinic receptor stimulation, where the generation of NO is likely to be via a neuronal nNOS/sGC-dependent pathway.

Original publication




Journal article


The Journal of Physiology


Wiley: 12 months

Publication Date





3981 - 3992


Burdon Sanderson Cardiac Science Centre, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, Sherrington Building, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK.