Stellate ganglion (SG) neurons provide the main sympathetic innervation to the heart and help to regulate cardiac function. The purpose of this study was to determine if ultrasound imaging could be employed to retrograde label rat SG neurons innervating the heart without employing thoracotomy. In addition, electrophysiological experiments were performed to characterize the modulation of Ca2+ channels by neurotransmitters in unlabeled and dye-labeled SG neurons. Fluorescence imaging of actutely isolated cells revealed that dye uptake was successful within five days following injection of dye in the cardiac muscle. Whole-cell voltage-clamp recordings revealed that the majority of the Ca2+ current was carried by N-type Ca2+ channels. Finally, fluorescence dye uptake did not appear to affect the modulation of Ca 2+ currents following exposure of SG neurons to norepinephrine, adenosine and neurokinin A. These results demonstrate that ultrasound imaging-guided percutaneous injection can be effectively employed to retrograde label neurons innervating the heart.
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