Background: A three-dimensional description of the distribution and organization of the canine intrinsic cardiac nervous system was developed in order to characterize its full extent physiologically.
Methods: The anatomy of the canine intrinsic cardiac nervous system was investigated in 67 mongrel dogs by means of visualization following methylene blue staining as well as by light and electron microscopic analyses.
Results: Collections of ganglia associated with nerves, i.e., ganglionated plexuses, were identified in specific locations in epicardial fat and cardiac tissue. Distinct epicardial ganglionated plexuses were consistently observed in four atrial and three ventricular regions, with occasional neurons being located throughout atrial and ventricular tissues. One ganglionated plexus extended from the ventral to dorsal surfaces of the right atrium. Another ganglionated plexus, with three components, was identified in fat on the left atrial ventral surface. A ganglionated plexus was located on the mid-dorsal surface of the two atria, extending ventrally in the interatrial septum. A fourth atrial ganglionated plexus was located at the origin of the inferior vena cava extending to the dorsal caudal surface of the two atria. On the cranial surface of the ventricles a ganglionated plexus that surrounded the aortic root was identified. This plexus extended to the right and left main coronary arteries and origins of the ventral descending and circumflex coronary arteries. Two other ventricular ganglionated plexuses were identified adjacent to the origins of the right and left marginal coronary arteries. Intrinsic cardiac ganglia ranged in size from ones comprising one or a few neurons along the course of a nerve to ones as large as 1 x 3 mm estimated to contain a few hundred neurons. Intrinsic cardiac neuronal somata varied in size and shape, up to 36% containing multiple nucleoli. Electron microscopic examination demonstrated typical autonomic neurons and satellite cells in intrinsic cardiac ganglia. Many of their axon profiles contained large numbers of clear, round, and dense-core vesicles. Asymmetrical axodendritic synapses were common.
Conclusions: The canine intrinsic cardiac nervous system contains a variety of neurons interconnected via plexuses of nerves, the distribution of which is wider than previously assumed.