From Psychostasis to the Discovery of Cardiac Nerves: The Origins of the Modern Cardiac Neuromodulation Concept

Biology (Basel). 2024 Apr 16;13(4):266. doi: 10.3390/biology13040266.


This review explores the historical development of cardiology knowledge, from ancient Egyptian psychostasis to the modern comprehension of cardiac neuromodulation. In ancient Egyptian religion, psychostasis was the ceremony in which the deceased was judged before gaining access to the afterlife. This ritual was also known as the “weighing of the heart” or “weighing of the soul”. The Egyptians believed that the heart, not the brain, was the seat of human wisdom, emotions, and memory. They were the first to recognize the cardiocentric nature of the body, identifying the heart as the center of the circulatory system. Aristotle (fourth century BC) considered the importance of the heart in human physiology in his philosophical analyses. For Galen (third century AD), the heart muscle was the site of the vital spirit, which regulated body temperature. Cardiology knowledge advanced significantly in the 15th century, coinciding with Leonardo da Vinci and Vesalius’s pioneering anatomical and physiological studies. It was William Harvey, in the 17th century, who introduced the concept of cardiac circulation. Servet’s research and Marcello Malpighi’s discovery of arterioles and capillaries provided a more detailed understanding of circulation. Richard Lower emerged as the foremost pioneer of experimental cardiology in the late 17th century. He demonstrated the heart’s neural control by tying off the vagus nerve. In 1753, Albrecht von Haller, a professor at Göttingen, was the first to discover the heart’s automaticity and the excitation of muscle fibers. Towards the end of the 18th century, Antonio Scarpa challenged the theories of Albrecht von Haller and Johann Bernhard Jacob Behrends, who maintained that the myocardium possessed its own “irritability”, on which the heartbeat depended, and was independent of neuronal sensitivity. Instead, Scarpa argued that the heart required innervation to maintain life, refuting Galenic notions. In contemporary times, the study of cardiac innervation has regained prominence, particularly in understanding the post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) infection (PASC), which frequently involves cardiorespiratory symptoms and dysregulation of the intrinsic cardiac innervation. Recently, it has been recognized that post-acute sequelae of acute respiratory infections (ARIs) due to other pathogens can also be a cause of long-term vegetative and somatic symptoms. Understanding cardiac innervation and modulation can help to recognize and treat long COVID and long non-COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019) ARIs. This analysis explores the historical foundations of cardiac neuromodulation and its contemporary relevance. By focusing on this concept, we aim to bridge the gap between historical understanding and modern applications. This will illuminate the complex interplay between cardiac function, neural modulation, cardiovascular health, and disease management in the context of long-term cardiorespiratory symptoms and dysregulation of intrinsic cardiac innervations.

PMID:38666878 | PMC:PMC11047897 | DOI:10.3390/biology13040266