Influence of age and sex on the pressor response following a spontaneous burst of muscle sympathetic nerve activity

Lauro C. Vianna, Emma C. Hart, Seth T. Fairfax, Nisha Charkoudian, Michael J. Joyner, Paul J. Fadel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


The sympathetic nervous system is critical for the beat-to-beat regulation of arterial blood pressure (BP). Although studies have examined age- and sex-related effects on BP control, findings are inconsistent and limited data are available in postmenopausal women. In addition, the majority of studies have focused on time-averaged responses without consid-eration for potential beat-to-beat alterations. Thus we examined whether the ability of muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) to modulate BP on a beat-to-beat basis is affected by age or sex. BP and MSNA were measured during supine rest in 40 young (20 men) and 40 older (20 men) healthy subjects. Beat-to-beat fluctuations in mean arterial pressure (MAP) were characterized for 15 cardiac cycles after each MSNA burst using signal averaging. The rise in MAP following an MSNA burst was similar between young men and women (+2.64 ± 0.3 vs. +2.57 ± 0.3 mmHg, respectively). However, the magnitude of the increase in MAP after an MSNA burst was reduced in older compared with young subjects (P < 0.05). Moreover, the attenuation of the pressor response was greater in older women (+1.20 ± 0.1 mmHg) compared with older men (+ 1.72 ± 0.2 mmHg; P < 0.05). Interestingly, in all groups, MAP consistently decreased after cardiac cycles without MSNA bursts (nonbursts) with the magnitude of fall greatest in older men. In summary, healthy aging is associated with an attenuated beat-to-beat increase in BP after a spontaneous MSNA burst, and this attenuation is more pronounced in postmenopausal women. Furthermore, our nonburst findings highlight the importance of sympathetic vasoconstrictor activity to maintain beat-to-beat BP, particularly in older men.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H2419-H2427
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2012


  • Aging
  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Blood pressure
  • Hypertension
  • Menopause

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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