The arterial baroreflex is critical to both short- and long-term regulation of blood pressure. However, human baroreflex research has been largely limited to the association between blood pressure and cardiac period (or heart rate) or indices of vascular sympathetic function. Over the past decade, emerging techniques based on carotid ultrasound imaging have allowed new means of understanding and measuring the baroreflex. In this review, we describe the assessment of the mechanical and neural components of the baroreflex through the use of carotid ultrasound imaging. The mechanical component refers to the change in carotid artery diameter in response to changes in arterial pressure, and the neural component refers to the change in R-R interval (cardiac baroreflex) or muscle sympathetic nerve activity (sympathetic baroreflex) in response to this barosensory vessel stretch. The key analytical concepts and techniques are discussed, with a focus on the assessment of baroreflex sensitivity via the modified Oxford method. We illustrate how the application of carotid ultrasound imaging has contributed to a greater understanding of baroreflex physiology in humans, covering topics such as ageing and diurnal variation, and physiological challenges including exercise, postural changes and mental stress.
- Blood pressure
- Carotid artery