Inhibition of α-adrenergic vasoconstriction in exercising human thigh muscles


Corresponding author M. Sander: Rigshospitalet, section 7652, Blegdamsvej 9, DK-2100 Copenhagen Ø, Denmark. Email:


The mechanisms underlying metabolic inhibition of sympathetic responses within exercising skeletal muscle remain incompletely understood. The aim of the present study was to test whether α2-adrenoreceptor-mediated vasoconstriction was more sensitive to metabolic inhibition than α1-vasoconstriction during dynamic knee-extensor exercise. We studied healthy volunteers using two protocols: (1) wide dose ranges of the α-adrenoreceptor agonists phenylephrine (PE, α1 selective) and BHT-933 (BHT, α2 selective) were administered intra-arterially at rest and during 27 W knee-extensor exercise (n= 13); (2) flow-adjusted doses of PE (0.3 μg kg−1 l−1) and BHT (15 μg kg−1 l−1) were administered at rest and during ramped exercise (7 W to 37 W; n= 10). Ultrasound Doppler and thermodilution techniques provided direct measurements of femoral blood flow (FBF). PE (0.8 μg kg−1) and BHT (40 μg kg−1) produced comparable maximal reductions in FBF at rest (−58 ± 6 versus−64 ± 4%). Despite increasing the doses, PE (1.6 μg kg−1 min−1) and BHT (80 μg kg−1 min−1) caused significantly smaller changes in FBF during 27 W exercise (13 ± 4 versus−3 ± 5%). During ramped exercise, significant vasoconstriction at lower intensities (7 and 17 W) was seen following PE (−16 ± 5 and −16 ± 4%), but not BHT (−2 ± 4 and −4 ± 5%). At the highest intensity (37 W), FBF was not significantly changed by either drug. Collectively, these data demonstrate metabolic inhibition of α-adrenergic vasoconstriction in large postural muscles of healthy humans. Both α1- and α2-adrenoreceptor agonists produce comparable vasoconstriction in the resting leg, and dynamic thigh exercise attenuates α1- and α2-mediated vasoconstriction similarly. However, α2-mediated vasoconstriction appears more sensitive to metabolic inhibition, because α2 is completely inhibited even at low workloads, whereas α1 becomes progressively inhibited with increasing workloads.