The contribution of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) versus the parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) in mediating fatal cardiac arrhythmias during insulin-induced severe hypoglycemia is not well understood. Therefore, experimental protocols were performed in nondiabetic Sprague-Dawley rats to test the SNS with 1) adrenal demedullation and 2) chemical sympathectomy, and to test the PSNS with 3) surgical vagotomy, 4) nicotinic receptor (mecamylamine) and muscarinic receptor (AQ-RA 741) blockade, and 5) ex vivo heart perfusions with normal or low glucose, acetylcholine (ACh), and/or mecamylamine. In protocols 1–4, 3-h hyperinsulinemic (0.2 units/kg/min) and hypoglycemic (10–15 mg/dL) clamps were performed. Adrenal demedullation and chemical sympathectomy had no effect on mortality or arrhythmias during severe hypoglycemia compared with controls. Vagotomy led to a 6.9-fold decrease in mortality; reduced first- and second-degree heart block 4.6- and 4-fold, respectively; and prevented third-degree heart block compared with controls. Pharmacological blockade of nicotinic receptors, but not muscarinic receptors, prevented heart block and mortality versus controls. Ex vivo heart perfusions demonstrated that neither low glucose nor ACh alone caused arrhythmias, but their combination induced heart block that could be abrogated by nicotinic receptor blockade. Taken together, ACh activation of nicotinic receptors via the vagus nerve is the primary mediator of severe hypoglycemia–induced fatal cardiac arrhythmias.
- Received March 22, 2019.
- Accepted August 9, 2019.
- © 2019 by the American Diabetes Association.