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Local neuromodulators of cardiac autonomic control

Neuropeptide Y receptor staining (in green) in vascular smooth muscle cells of a human coronary arteriole. (Stanley, Dora and Herring, unpublished)
Neuropeptide Y receptor staining (in green) in vascular smooth muscle cells of a human coronary arteriole. (Stanley, Dora and Herring, unpublished)

Both the rate and force of contraction of the heart are influenced by the autonomic nervous system. When the heart has structural or electrical abnormalities, stimulation by the group of nerves that speed up cardiac contraction can lead to dangerous heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death. However, nerves that slow down cardiac contraction are able to protect against this. The balance between these two groups of nerves is therefore critical for longterm survival in many cardiovascular diseases.

The textbook view of these nerves is that merely respond to reflexes mediated through the brainstem. However, we have found that the system is not "hard wired" and its behaviour can be greatly influenced by local chemical modulators both within the neurons (such as nitric oxide), and from neighbouring neurons (such as neuropeptide Y and galanin), as well as nearby blood vessels (such as CNP and angiotensin II) and the injured heart itself (BNP). We aim to study how these local neuromodulators influence these nerves in order to develop therapeutic strategies for treating cardiovascular disease, the number one cause of death in the western world.

We use a variety of experimental techniques on the molecular (qPCR, Western blotting, IHC, ELISA assays and viral vector delivery of genes and RNAi), and cellular level (fluorescence imaging, neurotransmitters release measurements) all the way through to organ behaviour in-vitro (Langendorff perfused hearts) and in-vivo (through haemodynamic measurements). We encourage applications from potential DPhil/PhD students who are enthusiastic and bright (minimum 2:1 degree classification) interested in learning a variety of experimental techniques in order to answer key scientific questions that have important implications for cardiac health and disease.

Our team

Selected publications

Related research themes