Sympathetic nerve activity in hypotension and orthostatic intolerance


T. Mano, Tokai Central Hospital, 4-6-2, Sohara-Higashijima-cho, Kakamigahara, Gifu 504-8601, Japan.


Aim:  The present paper reviews how changes in sympathetic nerve activity are related to hypotensive episodes and orthostatic intolerance in humans.

Results:  It has been well documented that sympathetic neural traffic to skeletal muscles (muscle sympathetic nerve activity; MSNA) plays an essential role in maintaining blood pressure homeostasis mainly through baroreflex. The MSNA responded to gravitational loading from the head to the leg (+Gz) during passive head-up tilt (HUT). Patients who suffered from orthostatic hypotension with or without syncope were classified into at least two groups; low and high responders of MSNA to orthostatic loading. The typical examples belonging to the former group were patients of multiple system atrophy who had very low basal sympathetic outflow to muscle which responded extremely poorly to HUT. Patients of multiple system atrophy presented also postprandial hypotension in which muscle sympathetic response to oral glucose administration was absent. The latter group was represented by subjects who manifested vasovagal syncope with normal or even higher muscle sympathetic response to HUT, which was suddenly withdrawn concomitantly with bradycardia and hypotension. Similar withdrawal of sympathetic nerve traffic to muscle was encounterd in a rare case of idiopathic non-orthostatic episodic hypotension which accompanied bradycardia. The MSNA was suppressed by short-term exposure to microgravity but was enhanced after long-term exposure to microgravity. Orthostatic intolerance after long-term exposure to microgravity was related to progressive reduction of muscle sympathetic response to orthostatic loading with impaired arterial baroreflex.

Conclusion:  It is concluded that hypotensive episodes are closely related to poor or lack of muscle sympathetic outflow, but may depend on various neural mechanisms to induce it.