Comparative quantitative study of the intrinsic cardiac ganglia and neurons in the rat, guinea pig, dog and human as revealed by histochemical staining for acetylcholinesterase
This study was conducted to determine the overall number of intrinsic neurons distributed throughout the entire heart, in which most neurons are located inside of intramural ganglia and are hidden to observers. For this reason, we attempted to ascertain: (1) how the number of neurons located inside of intrinsic cardiac ganglion is related to its area, and (2) whether this relationship is dependent on age and species of animals. Hearts of rats, guinea pigs, dogs and humans were used to examine intramural ganglia stained histochemically for acetylcholinesterase (AChE). The number and parameters of neurons located inside of 104 ganglia were estimated in serial sections. Although the revealed intrinsic cardiac ganglia varied extremely in shape and size, two different types were identified: the globular and plain ones. In the plain ganglia, perikarya of side by side situated neurons were always intensely stained for AChE and, being clearly discernible, they could be reliably counted in any plain ganglia on total heart preparations using a contact microscope. Contrarily, neuron somata in the globular ganglia were densely packed above one another and their perikarya were almost indiscernible for the observer. Counting of neurons located inside of globular ganglia was possible in serial sections only. The largest cardiac ganglia were revealed in dogs, in which some globular ganglia containing up to 2000 neurons occupied more than 1 mm2. In spite of evident species-dependent differences with respect to frequency of large ganglia, the majority of intrinsic cardiac ganglia both in humans and animals were comparatively small, involved approximately 100–200 nerve cells and occupied an area ranging from 0.01 to 0.17 mm2. Overall, the number of neurons located inside of globular ganglion was related to its area (correlation coefficient = 0.82). However, the correlation coefficients between the globular ganglion area and its neuron number were unequal in different species (0.92 in guinea pig; 0.80 in dog; 0.72 in human; and 0.44 in rat) as well as dependent on (1) ganglion size (0.8 for ganglia equal to or larger than 0.17 mm2 and 0.6 for ganglia smaller than 0.17 mm2) and (2) age of specimens (respectively, 0.98 for juvenile and 0.87 for adult dogs; 0.71 for infants and 0.54 for aged human). In all examined animals and humans, the mean measurements of neuron perikarya were similar (on average, 23 m in width, 32 m in length, and 615 m2 in area) and differences between them were statistically insignificant. However, neuron perikarya of adult dogs and aged humans were significantly larger than those revealed in the juvenile dogs and infants, respectively. Based on the data of this study, we concluded that the number of intrinsic cardiac neurons may be approximated in the total heart preparation via counting and measuring of intramural ganglia, contours of which are well-discernible following a histochemical reaction for AChE.