Main Menu (Mobile)- Block
Main Menu - Block
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems regulate the activities of internal organs1, but the molecular and functional diversity of their constituent neurons and circuits remains largely unknown. Here we use retrograde neuronal tracing, single-cell RNA sequencing, optogenetics and physiological experiments to dissect the cardiac parasympathetic control circuit in mice. We show that cardiac-innervating neurons in the brainstem nucleus ambiguus (Amb) are comprised of two molecularly, anatomically and functionally distinct subtypes. The first, which we call ambiguus cardiovascular (ACV) neurons (approximately 35 neurons per Amb), define the classical cardiac parasympathetic circuit. They selectively innervate a subset of cardiac parasympathetic ganglion neurons and mediate the baroreceptor reflex, slowing heart rate and atrioventricular node conduction in response to increased blood pressure. The other, ambiguus cardiopulmonary (ACP) neurons (approximately 15 neurons per Amb) innervate cardiac ganglion neurons intermingled with and functionally indistinguishable from those innervated by ACV neurons. ACP neurons also innervate most or all lung parasympathetic ganglion neurons—clonal labelling shows that individual ACP neurons innervate both organs. ACP neurons mediate the dive reflex, the simultaneous bradycardia and bronchoconstriction that follows water immersion. Thus, parasympathetic control of the heart is organized into two parallel circuits, one that selectively controls cardiac function (ACV circuit) and another that coordinates cardiac and pulmonary function (ACP circuit). This new understanding of cardiac control has implications for treating cardiac and pulmonary diseases and for elucidating the control and coordination circuits of other organs.