Background: We have shown previously that a decreased high-frequency spectrum of heart rate variability (HF-HRV), indicative of reduced vagal tone, shows promise in predicting neonates likely to develop necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) before its clinical onset. We hypothesized that NEC induction in rat pups decreases HF-HRV power; subdiaphragmatic vagotomy worsens the severity of the NEC phenotype, increases levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines, and alters the myenteric phenotype. Methods: Newborn Sprague-Dawley rats, representative of preterm human neonates, were subjected to 7-8 days of brief periods of cold stress and hypoxia to induce NEC with or without unilateral subdiaphragmatic vagotomy. HRV was measured at postnatal days one and five, pups were sacrificed at day 8/9, and gastrointestinal tissues and blood were collected for immunohistochemical, corticosterone, and cytokine analysis. Key Results: Compared to control, NEC-induced rats showed the following: (a) typical histological signs of grade 2 NEC, which were more severe in rats that underwent vagotomy; (b) reduced developmental increases in time (RMSSD) and frequency (HF) HRV spectra when combined with the stress of laparotomy/vagotomy; (c) increases in nitric oxide synthase-immunoreactivity in the myenteric plexus of jejunum and ileum; furthermore, compared to mild NEC and controls, vagotomized NEC rats had increased plasma values of pro-inflammatory cytokines IL-1β and IL-6. Conclusions and Inferences: Our data suggest that in rodents, similar to neonatal observations, NEC induction attenuated developmental HF-HRV increases, furthermore, subdiaphragmatic vagotomy worsened the histological severity, increased pro-inflammatory cytokines, and altered the nitrergic myenteric phenotype, suggesting a role of the vagus in the development of NEC pathology.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems