Fifty years of microneurography: Learning the language of the peripheral sympathetic nervous system in humans
Journal of Neurophysiology
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© 2018 American Physiological Society. All rights reserved. As a primary component of homeostasis, the sympathetic nervous system enables rapid adjustments to stress through its ability to communicate messages among organs and cause targeted and graded end organ responses. Key in this communication model is the pattern of neural signals emanating from the central to peripheral components of the sympathetic nervous system. But what is the communication strategy employed in peripheral sympathetic nerve activity (SNA)? Can we develop and interpret the system of coding in SNA that improves our understanding of the neural control of the circulation? In 1968, Hagbarth and Vallbo (Hagbarth KE, Vallbo AB. Acta Physiol Scand 74: 96–108, 1968) reported the first use of microneurographic methods to record sympathetic discharges in peripheral nerves of conscious humans, allowing quantification of SNA at rest and sympathetic responsiveness to physiological stressors in health and disease. This technique also has enabled a growing investigation into the coding patterns within, and cardiovascular outcomes associated with, postganglionic SNA. This review outlines how results obtained by microneurographic means have improved our understanding of SNA outflow patterns at the action potential level, focusing on SNA directed toward skeletal muscle in conscious humans.