Sahibzada N, Mangel AW, Tatge JE, Dretchen KL, Franz MR, Virmani R, Gillis RA. Rhythmic aortic contractions induced by electrical stimulation in vivo in the rat. PLoS One. 2015 Jul 1;10(7):e0130255. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0130255

For over a century, the behavior of the aorta and other large arteries has been described as passive elastic tubes in which no active contraction occurs in the smooth muscle wall. In response to pulsatile pressure changes, the vessels undergo a 'passive' elastic dilatation– contraction cycle, described as a “Windkessel” effect. However, Mangel and colleagues have presented evidence that is contrary to this view. They reported that in the rabbit, the aorta undergoes rhythmic 'active' (contraction) during the cardiac cycle; but these findings have been largely ignored. In the present study, we observed spontaneous contractions in synchrony with the heartbeat in another species (rat). In addition we demonstrate that aorta contractions are of neurogenic origin. Electrical stimulation of the aorta evoked contractions that occur at a rate that is in the range of the animal's heartbeat and are suppressed by tetrodotoxin and the alpha-adrenergic receptor blocker, phentolamine. Altogether, these findings indicate that aortic contractions are under neural control from the heart.

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