The sympathetic preganglionic neurons (SPN) in the thoracic spinal cord regulate vasomotor tone via norepinephrine released from sympathetic terminals and adrenal medulla. We assessed the hypothesis that nitric oxide synthase I (NOS I)- and NOS II-derived nitric oxide (NO) in the thoracic spinal cord differentially modulate sympathetic outflow and that the adrenal medulla may be involved in those modulatory actions. In Sprague-Dawley rats, NOS I immunoreactivity was distributed primarily in the perikaryon, proximal dendrites, or axons of SPN, and small clusters of NOS II immunoreactivity impinged mainly on the circumference of SPN. Intrathecal administration of 7-nitroindazole (7-NI), a specific NOS I antagonist, into the thoracic spinal cord significantly reduced arterial pressure, heart rate, and basal or baroreflex-mediated sympathetic vasomotor tone. On the other hand, intrathecal application of S-methylisothiourea (SMT), a specific NOS II antagonist, elevated arterial pressure with a transient reduction of heart rate, induced a surge of plasma norepinephrine, and reduced baroreflex-mediated but not basal sympathetic vasomotor tone. Bilateral adrenalectomy significantly exacerbated the cardiovascular responses to 7-NI but antagonized those to SMT. We conclude that both NOS I and NOS II are present in the thoracic spinal cord and are tonically active under physiological conditions. Furthermore, the endogenous NO generated by NOS I-containing SPN exerts a tonic excitatory action on vasomotor tone mediated by norepinephrine released from the adrenal medulla and sympathetic nerve terminals. On the other hand, NO derived from NOS II exerts a tonic inhibitory action on sympathetic outflow from the SPN that targets primarily the blood vessels.
- sympathetic preganglionic neurons
- vasomotor tone
- adrenal medulla
- blood pressure
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