Cholinergic Location of Delta-Opioid Receptors in Canine Atria and SA Node

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2008 Feb;294(2):H829-38. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.01141.2007. Epub 2007 Nov 21.


Delta-opioid receptors (DORs) are associated with ischemic preconditioning and vagal transmission in the sinoatrial (SA) node and atria. Although functional studies suggested that DORs are prejunctional on parasympathetic nerve terminals, their precise location remains unconfirmed. DORs were colocalized in tissue slices and synaptosomes from the canine right atrium and SA node along with cholinergic and adrenergic markers, vesicular acetylcholine transporter (VAChT), and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Synapsin I immunofluorescence verified the neural character of tissue structures and isolated synaptosomes. Acetylcholine and norepinephrine measurements suggested the presence of both cholinergic and adrenergic synaptosomes. Fluorescent analysis of VAChT and TH signals indicated that >80% of the synapsin-positive synaptosomes were of cholinergic origin and <8% were adrenergic. DORs colocalized 75-85% with synapsin in tissue slices from both atria and SA node. The colocalization was equally strong (85%) for nodal synaptosomes but less so for atrial synaptosomes (57%). Colocalization between DOR and VAChT was 75-85% regardless of the source. Overlap between DOR and TH was uniformly low, ranging from 8% to 17%. Western blots with synaptosomal extracts confirmed two DOR-positive bands at molecular masses corresponding to those reported for DOR monomers and dimers. The abundance of DOR was greater in nodal synaptosomes than in atrial synaptosomes, largely attributable to a greater abundance of monomers in the SA node. The abundant nodal and atrial DORs predominantly associated with cholinergic nerve terminals support the hypothesis that prejunctional DORs regulate vagal transmission locally within the heart.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholine / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Blotting, Western
  • Dogs
  • Electrophoresis, Polyacrylamide Gel
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Heart Atria
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Microscopy, Confocal
  • Microscopy, Fluorescence
  • Myocardium / metabolism
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism
  • Parasympathetic Fibers, Postganglionic / physiology
  • Parasympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Receptors, Opioid, delta / physiology*
  • Sinoatrial Node / physiology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology
  • Synaptosomes / metabolism
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins / metabolism


  • Receptors, Opioid, delta
  • Vesicular Acetylcholine Transport Proteins
  • Acetylcholine
  • Norepinephrine