Neurovascular Response during Exercise and Mental Stress in Anabolic Steroid Users

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Increased resting muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) and lower forearm blood flow (FBF) were observed in young men who use anabolic androgenic steroids (AAS). However, the response of MSNA and FBF in AAS users triggered by muscle mechanoreflex and central command has never been tested. In addition, we evaluated the blood pressure (BP) and heart rate (HR) responses during these maneuvers.


Nineteen AAS users (AASU) 31 ± 6 yr of age and 18 AAS nonusers (AASNU) 29 ± 4 yr of age were recruited. All participants were involved in strength training. AAS use was determined using a urine test (liquid chromatography with tandem mass spectrometry). MSNA was measured using the microneurography technique. FBF was measured by using venous occlusion plethysmography. BP was measured using an automatic oscillometric device. HR was recorded continuously through ECG. Isometric handgrip exercise was performed at 30% of the maximal voluntary contraction for 3 min, and mental stress was elicited by the Stroop color–word test for 4 min.


The MSNA and FBF responses during exercise were similar between AASU and AASNU, with a trend toward higher MSNA (bursts per minute; P = 0.084) and lower forearm vascular conductance (FVC; units; P = 0.084) in AASU than in AASNU. During mental stress, AASU showed a significantly higher MSNA (P < 0.05) and lower FBF (P < 0.05) compared with AASNU. During both maneuvers, HR and BP increased linearly in both groups; however, AASU showed a significantly higher HR compared with AASNU.


During muscle mechanoreflex activation (isometric exercise), AASU have normal MSNA and FBF responses, whereas during central command (mental stress) stimulation, AASU have exacerbated MSNA and blunted vasodilation. Therefore, mental stress seems to exacerbate neurovascular control throughout stress reaction situations in AASU.

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