Electrical activation of the human vestibulo-sympathetic reflex

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Abstract

Muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) is modulated on a beat-to-beat basis by the baroreflex. Vestibular input from the otolith organs also modulates MSNA, but characteristics of the vestibulo-sympathetic reflex (VSR) are largely unknown. The purpose of this study was to elicit the VSR with electrical stimulation to estimate its latency in generating MSNA. The vestibular nerves of seven subjects were stimulated across the mastoids with short trains of high frequency, constant current pulses. Pulse trains were delivered every fourth heartbeat at delays of 300-700 ms after the R wave of the electrocardiogram. Vestibular nerve stimulation given 500 ms after the R wave significantly increased baroreflex-driven MSNA, as well as the diastolic blood pressure threshold at which bursts of MSNA occurred. These changes were specific to beats in which vestibular stimulation was applied. Electrical stimulation across the shoulders provided a control condition. When trans-shoulder trials were subtracted from trials with vestibular nerve stimulation, eliminating the background baroreflex-driven sympathetic activity, there was a sharp increase in MSNA beginning 660 ms after the vestibular nerve stimulus and lasting for about 60 ms. The increase in the MSNA produced by vestibular nerve stimulation, and the associated increase in the diastolic blood pressure threshold at which the baroreflex-driven bursts occurred, provide evidence for the presence of a short-latency VSR in humans that is likely to be important for the maintenance of blood pressure during rapid changes in head and body position with respect to gravity.

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