Brainstem changes associated with increased muscle sympathetic drive in obstructive sleep apnoea

Linda C. Lundblad, Rania H. Fatouleh, Elie Hammam, David K. McKenzie, Vaughan G. Macefield, Luke A. Henderson

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Obstructive sleep apnoea (OSA) is associated with significantly increased bursts of muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA), leading to hypertension and increased cardiovascular morbidity. The underlying mechanism responsible for this sympathoexcitation is unknown. The aim of this investigation was to determine brainstem sites that contribute to this increased on-going muscle vasoconstrictor drive. We measured regional grey matter volume using voxel-based morphometry of T1-weighted anatomical images in 20 subjects with OSA and 19 healthy age-matched controls. We also performed concurrent recordings of MSNA and Blood Oxygen Level Dependent (BOLD) signal intensity of the brainstem, using high-resolution functional magnetic resonance imaging, in 15 subjects with OSA and 15 controls. OSA subjects had significantly elevated MSNA, which was correlated to altered BOLD signal intensity changes in the dorsolateral pons, rostral ventrolateral medulla, medullary raphe and midbrain. The medullary raphe, rostroventrolateral medulla and dorsolateral pons also had significantly increased grey matter volumes in subjects with obstructive sleep apnoea compared with controls. Furthermore, we also found that obstructive sleep apnoea was associated with increases in grey matter volume in the region of the hypoglossal nucleus. These data suggest that the elevated muscle vasoconstrictor drive in obstructive sleep apnoea may result from functional and anatomical changes within the dorsolateral pons, rostroventrolateral medulla and medullary raphe. These brainstem regions are known to modulate sympathetic output either directly or indirectly via sympathetic preganglionic neurons within the spinal cord. In addition, the known increase in genioglossus muscle activity in OSA may reflect the increase in grey matter volume of the hypoglossal nucleus.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)258-266
Number of pages9
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2014
Externally publishedYes

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