Effects of 12 months continuous positive airway pressure on sympathetic activity related brainstem function and structure in obstructive sleep apnea

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

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

37 Citations (Scopus)


Muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) is greatly elevated in patients with obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) during normoxic daytime wakefulness. Increased MSNA is a precursor to hypertension and elevated cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. However, the mechanisms underlying the high MSNA in OSA are not well understood. In this study we used concurrent microneurography and magnetic resonance imaging to explore MSNA-related brainstem activity changes and anatomical changes in 15 control and 15 OSA subjects before and after 6 and 12 months of continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) treatment. We found that following 6 and 12 months of CPAP treatment, resting MSNA levels were significantly reduced in individuals with OSA. Furthermore, this MSNA reduction was associated with restoration of MSNA-related brainstem activity and structural changes in the medullary raphe, rostral ventrolateral medulla, dorsolateral pons, and ventral midbrain. This restoration occurred after 6 months of CPAP treatment and was maintained following 12 months CPAP. These findings show that continual CPAP treatment is an effective long-term treatment for elevated MSNA likely due to its effects on restoring brainstem structure and function.

Original languageEnglish
Article number90
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Neuroscience
Issue numberMAR
Publication statusPublished - 10 Mar 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Dorsolateral pons
  • Hypertension
  • Medullary raphe
  • Rostral ventrolateral medulla
  • Sleep disordered breathing

Cite this