Ageing and leg postjunctional α-adrenergic vasoconstrictor responsiveness in healthy men


Corresponding author F. A. Dinenno: Department of Health and Exercise Science, Colorado State University, 220 Moby-B Complex, Fort Collins, CO 80523-1582, USA. Email:


Muscle sympathetic vasoconstrictor nerve activity increases with advancing age, but does not result in elevated forearm vasoconstrictor tone because of a selective reduction in α1-adrenoceptor responsiveness. In contrast, the leg circulation of older adults is under greater tonic sympathetic vasoconstriction, but it is unclear whether α-adrenoceptor responsiveness is altered with age. In the present study, we tested the hypothesis that postjunctional α-adrenergic vasoconstrictor responsiveness is reduced in the leg circulation with age. We measured femoral blood flow (Doppler ultrasound) and calculated the femoral vascular conductance (FVC) responses to α-adrenoceptor stimulation during local blockade of β-adrenoceptors in 12 young (24 ± 1 year) and seven healthy older men (62 ± 2 year). Whole-leg vasoconstrictor responses to local intrafemoral artery infusions of tyramine (evokes noradrenaline (NA) release), phenylephrine (α1-agonist) and dexmedetomidine (α2-agonist) were assessed. Consistent with previous data, resting femoral blood flow and FVC were ∼30% lower in older compared with young men (P < 0.05). Maximal vasoconstrictor responses to tyramine (−30 ± 3 versus−41 ± 3%), phenylephrine (−25 ± 4 versus−45 ± 5%), and dexmedetomidine (−22 ± 4 versus−44 ± 3%) were all significantly lower in older compared with young men (all P < 0.05). Our results indicate that human ageing is associated with a reduction in leg postjunctional α-adrenoceptor responsiveness to endogenous NA release, and this reduction is evident for both α1- and α2-adrenoceptors. However, given that basal leg vascular conductance is reduced with age and is primarily mediated by sympathetic vasoconstriction, impaired α-adrenoceptor responsiveness does not negate the ability of the sympathetic nervous system to evoke greater tonic vasoconstriction in the leg vasculature of older men.