Translational Examination of Changes in Baroreflex Function After Renal Denervation in Hypertensive Rats and Humans

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Renal denervation has shown promise in the treatment of resistant hypertension, although the mechanisms underlying the blood pressure (BP) reduction remain unclear. In a translational study of spontaneously hypertensive rats (n=7, surgical denervation) and resistant hypertensive human patients (n=8; 5 men, 33–71 years), we examined the relationship among changes in BP, sympathetic nerve activity, and cardiac and sympathetic baroreflex function after renal denervation. In humans, mean systolic BP (SBP; sphygmomanometry) and muscle sympathetic nerve activity (microneurography) were unchanged at 1 and 6 months after renal denervation (P<0.05). Interestingly, 4 of 8 patients showed a 10% decrease in SBP at 6 months, but sympathetic activity did not necessarily change in parallel with SBP. In contrast, all rats showed significant and immediate decreases in telemetric SBP and lumbar sympathetic activity (P<0.05), 7 days after denervation. Despite no change in SBP, human cardiac and sympathetic baroreflex function (sequence and threshold techniques) showed improvements at 1 and 6 months after denervation, particularly through increased sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity to falling BP. This was mirrored in spontaneously hypertensive rats; cardiac and sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity (spontaneous sequence and the Oxford technique) improved 7 days after denervation. The more consistent results in rats may be because of a more complete (>90% reduction in renal norepinephrine content) denervation. We conclude that (1) renal denervation improves BP in some patients, but sympathetic activity does not always change in parallel, and (2) baroreflex sensitivity is consistently improved in animals and humans, even when SBP has not decreased. Determining procedural success will be crucial in advancing this treatment modality.

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