Bone and Joint Institute


Neural control of vascular function in skeletal muscle

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Comprehensive Physiology





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© 2016 American Physiological Society. The sympathetic nervous system represents a fundamental homeostatic system that exerts considerable control over blood pressure and the distribution of blood flow. This process has been referred to as neurovascular control. Overall, the concept of neurovascular control includes the following elements: efferent postganglionic sympathetic nerve activity, neurotransmitter release, and the end organ response. Each of these elements reflects multiple levels of control that, in turn, affect complex patterns of change in vascular contractile state. Primarily, this review discusses several of these control layers that combine to produce the integrative physiology of reflex vascular control observed in skeletal muscle. Beginning with three reflexes that provide somewhat dissimilar vascular patterns of response despite similar changes in efferent sympathetic nerve activity, namely, the baroreflex, chemoreflex, and muscle metaboreflex, the article discusses the anatomical and physiological bases of postganglionic sympathetic discharge patterns and recruitment, neurotransmitter release and management, and details of regional variations of receptor density and responses within the microvascular bed. Challenges are addressed regarding the fundamentals of measurement and how conclusions from one response or vascular segment should not be used as an indication of neurovascular control as a generalized physiological dogma. Whereas the bulk of the article focuses on the vasoconstrictor function of sympathetic neurovascular integration, attention is also given to the issues of sympathetic vasodilation as well as the impact of chronic changes in sympathetic activation and innervation on vascular health.

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