SEARCH

SEARCH BY CITATION

Keywords:

  • alerting response;
  • baroreceptor reflex;
  • blood pressure regulation;
  • central cardiovascular pathways;
  • central command;
  • heart failure;
  • hypothalamus;
  • medulla oblongata

SUMMARY

1. Sympathetic vasomotor nerves play a major role in determining the level of arterial blood pressure and the distribution of cardiac output. The present review will discuss briefly the central regulatory mechanisms that control the sympathetic outflow to the cardiovascular system in the short and long term.

2. In the short term, the sympathetic vasomotor outflow is regulated by: (i) homeostatic feedback mechanisms, such as the baroreceptor or chemoreceptor reflexes; or (ii) feed-forward mechanisms that evoke cardiovascular changes as part of more complex behavioural responses.

3. The essential central pathways that subserve the baroreceptor reflex and, to a lesser extent, other cardiovascular reflexes, have been identified by studies in both anaesthetized and conscious animals. A critical component of these pathways is a group of neurons in the rostral ventrolateral medulla that project directly to the spinal sympathetic outflow and that receive inputs from both peripheral receptors and higher centres in the brain.

4. Much less is known about the central pathways subserving feed-forward or ‘central command’ responses, such as the cardiovascular changes that occur during exercise or that are evoked by a threatening or alerting stimulus. However, recent evidence indicates that the dorsomedial hypothalamic nucleus is a critical component of the pathways mediating the cardiovascular response to an acute alerting stimulus.

5. Long-term sustained changes in sympathetic vasomotor activity occur under both physiological conditions (e.g. a change in salt intake) and pathophysiological conditions (e.g. heart failure). There is evidence that the paraventricular nucleus in the hypothalamus is a critical component of the pathways mediating these changes.

6. Understanding the central mechanisms involved in the long-term regulation of sympathetic activity and blood pressure is a major challenge for the future. As a working hypothesis, a model is presented of the postulated central mechanisms that result in sustained changes in sympathetic vasomotor activity that are evoked by different types of chronic stimulation.