Chronic activation of hypothalamic oxytocin neurons improves cardiac function during left ventricular hypertrophy-induced heart failure

Cardiovasc Res. 2017 Sep 1;113(11):1318-1328. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvx084.


Aims: A distinctive hallmark of heart failure (HF) is autonomic imbalance, consisting of increased sympathetic activity, and decreased parasympathetic tone. Recent work suggests that activation of hypothalamic oxytocin (OXT) neurons could improve autonomic balance during HF. We hypothesized that a novel method of chronic selective activation of hypothalamic OXT neurons will improve cardiac function and reduce inflammation and fibrosis in a rat model of HF.

Methods and results: Two groups of male Sprague-Dawley rats underwent trans-ascending aortic constriction (TAC) to induce left ventricular (LV) hypertrophy that progresses to HF. In one TAC group, OXT neurons in the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus were chronically activated by selective expression and activation of excitatory DREADDs receptors with daily injections of clozapine N-oxide (CNO) (TAC + OXT). Two additional age-matched groups received either saline injections (Control) or CNO injections for excitatory DREADDs activation (OXT NORM). Heart rate (HR), LV developed pressure (LVDP), and coronary flow rate were measured in isolated heart experiments. Isoproterenol (0.01 nM-1.0 µM) was administered to evaluate β-adrenergic sensitivity. We found that increases in cellular hypertrophy and myocardial collagen density in TAC were blunted in TAC + OXT animals. Inflammatory cytokine IL-1β expression was more than twice higher in TAC than all other hearts. LVDP, rate pressure product (RPP), contractility, and relaxation were depressed in TAC compared with all other groups. The response of TAC and TAC + OXT hearts to isoproterenol was blunted, with no significant increase in RPP, contractility, or relaxation. However, HR in TAC + OXT animals increased to match Control at higher doses of isoproterenol.

Conclusions: Activation of hypothalamic OXT neurons to elevate parasympathetic tone reduced cellular hypertrophy, levels of IL-1β, and fibrosis during TAC-induced HF in rats. Cardiac contractility parameters were significantly higher in TAC + OXT compared with TAC animals. HR sensitivity, but not contractile sensitivity, to β-adrenergic stimulation was improved in TAC + OXT hearts.

Keywords: Autonomic imbalance; Cardiac function; Heart failure; Hypertrophy; Parasympathetic stimulation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Heart Failure / etiology
  • Heart Failure / metabolism*
  • Hypertrophy, Left Ventricular / complications
  • Hypertrophy, Left Ventricular / metabolism*
  • Hypertrophy, Left Ventricular / physiopathology
  • Isoproterenol / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Myocardial Contraction / drug effects
  • Myocardium / metabolism*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Oxytocin / metabolism*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Oxytocin
  • Isoproterenol