In rat models of cardiac hypertrophy (moderate aortic coarctation: ACm, n=18; severe aortic coarctation: ACs, n=27; aging: OLD, n=25; spontaneous chronic hypertension: SHR, n=18) and properly matched control animals (C(ACm), n=17; C(ACs), n=19; C(OLD), n=24; C(SHR), n=22), we investigated the relative contribution of intense autonomic activity and cardiac structural damage to ventricular arrhythmogenesis. We used an "in vivo" to tissue level approach, by correlating in the same animal: (i) social stress-induced ventricular arrhythmias, telemetrically recorded, and (ii) left ventricular weights (LVW) and amount and geometrical properties of myocardial fibrosis (MF). Arterial blood pressure was significantly higher in ACm (+11%), ACs (+28%) and SHR (+34%) than in controls. LVW were approximately 20% greater in ACm, ACs and OLD and 50% greater in SHR. MF was about twice as great and characterized by more frequent occurrence of microscopic scarring in ACm and ACs, and eight times greater and associated with both a higher number and a larger size of fibrotic foci in OLD and SHR compared to controls. Social stress increased ventricular arrhythmia vulnerability in all models of cardiac hypertrophy, as well as in controls. The arrhythmogenic action of stress was facilitated in ACs, OLD and SHR. A correlation between structural cardiac remodeling and ventricular arrhythmias was found only in SHR and OLD, which exhibited the greatest increase in LVW and/or MF. Social stress proved to be a valuable tool for analyzing the combined effects of autonomic stimulation and altered myocardial substrate on the genesis of potentially life-threatening arrhythmias in social animals.
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