Journal of molecular and cellular cardiology

Innervation of sinoatrial nodal cardiomyocytes in mouse. A combined approach using immunofluorescent and electron microscopy.

PMID 25101952


Fluorescent immunohistochemistry on the cardiac conduction system in whole mount mouse heart preparations demonstrates a particularly dense and complex network of nerve fibres and cardiomyocytes which are positive to the hyperpolarization activated cyclic nucleotide-gated potassium channel 4 (HCN4-positive cardiomyocytes) in the sinoatrial node region and adjacent areas around the root of right cranial vein. The present study was designed to investigate the morphologic and histochemical pattern of nerve fibres and HCN4-positive cardiomyocytes using fluorescent techniques and/or electron microscopy. Adrenergic and cholinergic nerve fibres together with HCN4-positive cardiomyocytes were identified using primary antibodies for tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), choline acetyltransferase (ChAT), and the HCN4 channel respectively. Amid HCN4-positive cardiomyocytes, fluorescence and electron microscopy data demonstrated a dense distribution of nerve fibres immunoreactive for ChAT and TH. In addition, novel electron microscopy data revealed that the mouse sinoatrial node contained exclusively unmyelinated nerve fibres, in which the majority of axons possess varicosities with clear mediatory vesicles that can be classified as cholinergic. Synapses occurred without any clear terminal connection with the effector cell, i.e. these synapes were of "en passant" type. In general, the morphologic pattern of innervation of mouse HCN4-positive cardiomyocytes identified using electron microscopy corresponds well to the dense network of nerve fibres demonstrated by fluorescent immunohistochemistry in mouse sinoatrial node and adjacent areas. The complex and extraordinarily dense innervation of HCN4-positive cardiomyocytes in mouse sinoatrial node underpins the importance of neural regulation for the cardiac conduction system. Based on the present observations, it is concluded that the occurrence of numerous nerve fibres nearby atrial cardiomyocytes serves as a novel reliable extracellular criterion for discrimination of SA nodal cardiomyocytes using electron microscopy.