Psychological stress activates the hypothalamus, augments the sympathetic nervous output, and elevates blood pressure via excitation of the ventral medullary cardiovascular regions. However, anatomical and functional connectivity from the hypothalamus to the ventral medullary cardiovascular regions has not been fully elucidated. We investigated this issue by tract-tracing and functional imaging in rats. Retrograde tracing revealed the rostral ventrolateral medulla was innervated by neurons in the ipsilateral dorsomedial hypothalamus (DMH). Anterograde tracing showed DMH neurons projected to the ventral medullary cardiovascular regions with axon terminals in contiguity with tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive neurons. By voltage-sensitive dye imaging, dynamics of ventral medullary activation evoked by electrical stimulation of the DMH were analyzed in the diencephalon-lower brainstem-spinal cord preparation of rats. Although the activation of the ventral medulla induced by single pulse stimulation of the DMH was brief, tetanic stimulation caused activation of the DMH sustained into the post-stimulus phase, resulting in delayed recovery. We suggest that prolonged excitation of the DMH, which is triggered by tetanic electrical stimulation and could also be triggered by psychological stress in a real life, induces further prolonged excitation of the medullary cardiovascular networks, and could contribute to the pathological elevation of blood pressure. The connectivity from the DMH to the medullary cardiovascular networks serves as a chronological amplifier of stress-induced sympathetic excitation. This notion will be the anatomical and pathophysiological basis to understand the mechanisms of stress-induced sustained augmentation of sympathetic activity.
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