Angina pectoris often results from ischemic episodes that excite chemosensitive and mechanoreceptive receptors in the heart. Ischemic episodes release a collage of chemicals, including adenosine and bradykinin, that excites the receptors of the sympathetic and vagal afferent pathways. Sympathetic afferent fibers from the heart enter the upper thoracic spinal cord and synapse on cells of origin of ascending pathways. This review focuses on the spinothalamic tract, but other pathways are excited as well. Excitation of spinothalamic tract cells in the upper thoracic and lower cervical segments, except C7 and C8 segments, contributes to the anginal pain experienced in the chest and arm. Cardiac vagal afferent fibers synapse in the nucleus tractus solitarius of the medulla and then descend to excite upper cervical spinothalamic tract cells. This innervation contributes to the anginal pain experienced in the neck and jaw. The spinothalamic tract projects to the medial and lateral thalamus and, based on positron emission tomography studies, activates several cortical areas, including the anterior cingulate gyrus (BA 24 and 25), the lateral basal frontal cortex, and the mesiofrontal cortex.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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