Reciprocal and non-reciprocal action of the vagal and sympathetic nerves innervating the heart

Mark Kollai, Kiyomi Koizumi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

134 Citations (Scopus)


Simultaneous recordings were made from vagal and sympathetic fibers innervating the heart in dogs anesthetized with chloralose. Reciprocal relationship between the two autonomic nerves was clearly seen in the baroreceptor reflex. Stimulation of chemoreceptors, however, evoked nonreciprocal responses of the two nerves; at the onset of the chemoreceptor reflex cardiac vagal and sympathetic discharges both increased, then, as baroreceptors became excited due to a pressor response, sympathetic nerve activity suddenly decreased while vagal discharges remained high, indicating the appearance of the reciprocal action typifying the baroreceptor reflex. Decrease in ventilatory volume and a slight increase in end-expired CO2 level augmented greatly both vagal and sympathetic discharges. As the phrenic-locked activity of the two nerves (i.e. the activity in vagus nerve occurs only in the absence of phrenic bursts while sympathetic discharges increase with phrenic bursts) increased, the alternate discharges between the two nerves became more conspicuous and the heart rate fluctuated with the respiratory (phrenic) rhythm. Thus, strong reciprocity between vagus and sympathetic can result in an oscillatory heart rate. When ventilatory volume was increased, both nerve activities decreased below control level. Mild hypoxia had similar effects to hypercapnia, though changes in nerve activity were greater. When coactivation of vagal and sympathetic nerve was produced in reflex action, changes in vagal discharges occurred earlier and faster than in the sympathetic fibers. The magnitude of change in vagus activity was also far greater. The elimination of afferents in the vagi, the aortic and sinus nerves reduced cardiac vagal activity greatly. However, discharges were still present and occurred between phrenic bursts, indicating that the vagal "tone" is maintained centrally as well as peripherally by input from receptors in the cardiovascular system. The physiological significance of reciprocal and nonreciprocal control of vagal and sympathetic nerves innervating the heart was discussed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-52
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Autonomic Nervous System
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Oct 1979



  • action
  • autonomic nervous system
  • barostatic reflex
  • cardiac reflexes
  • cardiac relationships
  • cardiac sympathetic activity
  • cardiac vagus nerve
  • chemoreceptor
  • reciprocal
  • reflex
  • respiratory
  • rhythmic activities
  • tonic activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Physiology
  • Clinical Neurology

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