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Single or combinatorial administration of β-blockers is a mainstay treatment strategy for conditions caused by sympathetic overactivity. Conventional wisdom suggests that the main beneficial effect of β-blockers includes resensitization and restoration of β1-adrenergic signaling pathways in the myocardium, improvements in cardiomyocyte contractility, and reversal of ventricular sensitization. However, emerging evidence indicates that another beneficial effect of β-blockers in disease may reside in sympathetic neurons. We investigated whether β-adrenoceptors are present on postganglionic sympathetic neurons and facilitate neurotransmission in a feed-forward manner. Using a combination of immunocytochemistry, RNA sequencing, Förster resonance energy transfer, and intracellular Ca2+ imaging, we demonstrate the presence of β-adrenoceptors on presynaptic sympathetic neurons in both human and rat stellate ganglia. In diseased neurons from the prehypertensive rat, there was enhanced β-adrenoceptor-mediated signaling predominantly via β2-adrenoceptor activation. Moreover, in human and rat neurons, we identified the presence of the epinephrine-synthesizing enzyme PNMT (phenylethanolamine-N-methyltransferase). Using high-pressure liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection, we measured greater epinephrine content and evoked release from the prehypertensive rat cardiac-stellate ganglia. We conclude that neurotransmitter switching resulting in enhanced epinephrine release, may provide presynaptic positive feedback on β-adrenoceptors to promote further release, that leads to greater postsynaptic excitability in disease, before increases in arterial blood pressure. Targeting neuronal β-adrenoceptor downstream signaling could provide therapeutic opportunity to minimize end-organ damage caused by sympathetic overactivity.

Original publication




Journal article




American Heart Association

Publication Date





1226 - 1238


From the Wellcome Trust OXION Initiative in Ion Channels and Disease, Burdon Sanderson Cardiac Science Centre, Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics, University of Oxford, United Kingdom.