Development of a decerebrate model for investigating mechanisms mediating viscero-sympathetic reflexes in the spinalized rat

Christian A. Reynolds, Donal S. O’Leary, Cheng Ly, Scott A. Smith, Zeljka Minic

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Autonomic dysreflexia (AD) often occurs in individuals living with spinal cord injury (SCI) and is characterized by uncontrolled hypertension in response to otherwise innocuous stimuli originating below the level of the spinal lesion. Visceral stimulation is a predominant cause of AD in humans and effectively replicates the phenotype in rodent models of SCI. Direct assessment of sympathetic responses to viscerosensory stimulation in spinalized animals is challenging and requires invasive surgical procedures necessitating the use of anesthesia. However, administration of anesthesia markedly affects viscerosensory reactivity, and the effects are exacerbated following spinal cord injury (SCI). Therefore, the major goal of the present study was to develop a decerebrate rodent preparation to facilitate quantification of sympathetic responses to visceral stimulation in the spinalized rat. Such a preparation enables the confounding effect of anesthesia to be eliminated. Sprague-Dawley rats were subjected to SCI at the fourth thoracic segment. Four weeks later, renal sympathetic nerve activity (RSNA) responses to visceral stimuli were quantified in urethane/ chloralose-anesthetized and decerebrate preparations. Visceral stimulation was elicited via colorectal distension (CRD) for 1 min. In the decerebrate preparation, CRD produced dose-dependent increases in mean arterial pressure (MAP) and RSNA and dose-dependent decreases in heart rate (HR). These responses were significantly greater in magnitude among decerebrate animals when compared with urethane/chloralose- anesthetized controls and were markedly attenuated by the administration of urethane/chloralose anesthesia after decerebration. We conclude that the decerebrate preparation enables high-fidelity quantification of neuronal reactivity to visceral stimulation in spinalized rats. NEW & NOTEWORTHY In animal models commonly used to study spinal cord injury, quantification of sympathetic responses is particularly challenging due to the increased susceptibility of spinal reflex circuits to the anesthetic agents generally required for experimentation. This constitutes a major limitation to understanding the mechanisms mediating regionally specific neuronal responses to visceral activation in chronically spinalized animals. In the present study, we describe a spinalized, decerebrate rodent preparation that facilitates quantification of sympathetic reactivity in response to visceral stimuli following spinal cord injury. This preparation enables reliable and reproducible quantification of viscero-sympathetic reflex responses resembling those elicited in conscious animals and may provide added utility for preclinical evaluation of neuropharmacological agents for the management of autonomic dysreflexia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H1332-H1340
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019


  • Autonomic dysreflexia
  • Decerebration
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Sympathetic
  • Viscerosensory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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