UBC-Nepal Expedition: acute alterations in sympathetic nervous activity do not influence brachial artery endothelial function at sea level and high altitude

Michael M. Tymko, Joshua C. Tremblay, Craig D. Steinback, Jonathan P. Moore, Alex B. Hansen, Alexander Patrician, Connor A. Howe, Ryan L. Hoiland, Daniel J. Green, Philip N. Ainslie

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    3 Citations (Scopus)


    Evidence indicates that increases in sympathetic nervous activity (SNA), and acclimatization to high altitude (HA), may reduce endothelial function as assessed by brachial artery flow-mediated dilatation (FMD); however, it is unclear whether such changes in FMD are due to direct vascular constraint, or consequential altered hemodynamics (e.g., shear stress) associated with increased SNA as a consequence of exposure to HA. We hypothesized that 1) at rest, SNA would be elevated and FMD would be reduced at HA compared with sea-level (SL); and 2) at SL and HA, FMD would be reduced when SNA was acutely increased, and elevated when SNA was acutely decreased. Using a novel, randomized experimental design, brachial artery FMD was assessed at SL (344 m) and HA (5,050 m) in 14 participants during mild lower-body negative pressure (LBNP; -10 mmHg) and lower-body positive pressure (LBPP; +10 mmHg). Blood pressure (finger photoplethysmography), heart rate (electrocardiogram), oxygen saturation (pulse oximetry), and brachial artery blood flow and shear rate (Duplex ultrasound) were recorded during LBNP, control, and LBPP trials. Muscle SNA was recorded (via microneurography) in a subset of participants (n = 5). Our findings were 1) at rest, SNA was elevated (P < 0.01), and absolute FMD was reduced (P = 0.024), but relative FMD remained unaltered (P = 0.061), at HA compared with SL; and 2) despite significantly altering SNA with LBNP (+60.3 ± 25.5%) and LBPP (-37.2 ± 12.7%) (P < 0.01), FMD was unaltered at SL (P = 0.448) and HA (P = 0.537). These data indicate that acute and mild changes in SNA do not directly influence brachial artery FMD at SL or HA.NEW & NOTEWORTHY The role of the sympathetic nervous system on endothelial function remains unclear. We used lower-body negative and positive pressure to manipulate sympathetic nervous activity at sea level and high altitude and measured brachial endothelial function via flow-mediated dilation. We found that acutely altering sympathetic nervous activity had no effect on endothelial function.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1386-1396
    Number of pages11
    JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
    Issue number5
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2017


    • endothelial function
    • high altitude
    • lower-body negative pressure
    • lower-body positive pressure
    • sympathetic nervous activity


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