Modulation of the control of muscle sympathetic nerve activity during incremental leg cycling

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Abstract

We tested the hypotheses that arterial baroreflex (ABR) control over muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) in humans does not remain constant throughout a bout of leg cycling ranging in intensity from very mild to exhausting. ABR control over MSNA (burst incidence, burst strength and total MSNA) was evaluated by analysing the relationship between beat-to-beat spontaneous variations in diastolic arterial pressure (DAP) and MSNA in 15 healthy subjects at rest and during leg cycling in a seated position at five workloads: very mild (10 W), mild (82 ± 5.0 W), moderate (126 ± 10.2 W), heavy (156 ± 14.3 W), and exhausting (190 ± 21.2 W). The workload was incremented every 6 min. The linear relationships between DAP and MSNA variables were significantly shifted downward during very mild exercise, but then shifted progressively upward as exercise intensity increased. During heavy and exhausting exercise, moreover, the DAP–MSNA relationships were also significantly shifted rightward from the resting relationship. The sensitivity of ABR control over burst incidence and total MSNA was significantly lower during very mild exercise than during rest, and the sensitivity of the burst incidence control remained lower than the resting level at all higher exercise intensities. By contrast, the sensitivity of the total MSNA control recovered to the resting level during mild and moderate exercise, and was significantly increased during heavy and exhausting exercise (versus rest). We conclude that, in humans, ABR control over MSNA is not uniform throughout a leg cycling exercise protocol in which intensity was varied from very mild to exhausting. We suggest that this non-uniformity of ABR function is one of the mechanisms by which sympathetic and cardiovascular responses are matched to the exercise intensity.

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