Neck proprioceptors contribute to the modulation of muscle sympathetic nerve activity to the lower limbs of humans

P. S. Bolton, E. Hammam, V. G. Macefield

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Several different strategies have now been used to demonstrate that the vestibular system can modulate muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) in humans and thereby contribute to the regulation of blood pressure during changes in posture. However, it remains to be determined how the brain differentiates between head-only movements that do not require changes in vasomotor tone in the lower limbs from body movements that do require vasomotor changes. We tested the hypothesis that neck movements modulate MSNA in the lower limbs of humans. MSNA was recorded in 10 supine young adult subjects, at rest, during sinusoidal stretching of neck muscles (100 cycles, 35° peak to peak at 0.37 ± 0.02 Hz) and during a ramp-and-hold (17.5° for 54 ± 9 s) static neck muscle stretch, while their heads were held fixed in space. Cross-correlation analysis revealed cyclical modulation of MSNA during sinusoidal neck muscle stretch (modulation index 45.4 ± 5.3 %), which was significantly less than the cardiac modulation of MSNA at rest (78.7 ± 4.2 %). Interestingly, cardiac modulation decreased significantly during sinusoidal neck displacement (63.0 ± 9.3 %). By contrast, there was no significant difference in MSNA activity during static ramp-and-hold displacements of the neck to the right or left compared with that with the head and neck aligned. These data suggest that dynamic, but not static, neck movements can modulate MSNA, presumably via projections of muscle spindle afferents to the vestibular nuclei, and may thus contribute to the regulation of blood pressure during orthostatic challenges.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2263-2271
Number of pages9
JournalExperimental Brain Research
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Human
  • Neck
  • Orthostatic hypotension
  • Sympathetic

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