Cardiovascular disease remains a major public health problem and is the leading cause of death in the US. Hypertension afflicts an estimated 76 million Americans and >50% of the population >65 years. The underlying mechanisms contributing to the pervasive vascular impairments in hypertension include abnormalities in the central control of sympathetic outflow and the peripheral regulation of vascular function, especially in response to stress. However, there is a dearth of information regarding potential aberrant regulation of these reflex pathways in hypertensive (HTN) humans during whole body cold exposure, a physiologic stress that causes increases in blood pressure (BP) and sympathetic nerve activity (SNA) and reductions in skin blood flow. Previous data suggest that alterations in both adrenergic and RhoA/Rho kinase signaling contribute importantly to impaired vascular function in human hypertension and may have significant functional importance for the reflex control of neurovascular function during whole body cooling. A comprehensive examination of the mechanisms underlying alterations in the neurovascular responses to cold stress in HTN adults is clinically relevant and important because the excessive cardiac demands during cold exposure further increase the risk for an acute cardiovascular event in susceptible individuals. This is especially problematic in essential HTN adults, because an exaggerated BP response to cold exposure, on top of an already elevated baseline BP, imparts even greater cardiovascular risk. Therefore, our global hypothesis is that neurovascular reactivity is exaggerated in HTN adults. We propose to investigate the integrated neural cardiovascular responses to whole body cold exposure, in addition to peripheral vascular responsiveness in the control of blood flow, in essential HTN and normotensive (NTN) humans. We hypothesize that reflex cooling-evoked increases in BP and SNA, and reductions in skin blood flow, will be greater in HTN adults. We further hypothesize that there will be a greater contribution of RhoA/Rho kinase to physiologically- (whole body cooling) and pharmacologically- induced (localized norepinephrine infusion) cutaneous vasoconstriction in HTN adults. Cutaneous vessels will be obtained (skin biopsy samples) to assess RhoA/Rho kinase expression and activation. These hypotheses will be tested in HTN and NTN adults aged 40-65 years. Changes in muscle and skin SNA (peroneal microneurography) and cutaneous blood flow (laser Doppler flux) will be used to assess neurovascular reactivity during whole body cooling. Intradermal microdialysis will be used to assess specific downstream cellular mechanisms (adrenergic- and Rho kinase-mediated pathways) contributing to altered peripheral regulation of vascular function. This comprehensive assessment of integrated neurovascular responses to reflex cooling in essential HTN adults examines multiple points along the efferent reflex axis and will allow us to determine if alterations in central and peripheral mechanisms contribute to impaired BP control and skin blood flow regulation during cold exposure in human hypertension.

Public Health Relevance

Adults with hypertension have greater mortality during cold seasons. The reasons why this occurs are not clear but may be related to excessive increases in blood pressure during cold exposure. The purpose of this investigation is to determine the mechanisms contributing altered blood pressure control during cold exposure in adults with high blood pressure.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Postdoctoral Individual National Research Service Award (F32)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1-F10A-S (20))
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Wang, Wayne C
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Pennsylvania State University
Schools of Allied Health Profes
University Park
United States
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Greaney, Jody L; Stanhewicz, Anna E; Kenney, W Larry et al. (2014) Muscle sympathetic nerve activity during cold stress and isometric exercise in healthy older adults. J Appl Physiol (1985) 117:648-57
Stanhewicz, Anna E; Greaney, Jody L; Kenney, W Larry et al. (2014) Sex- and limb-specific differences in the nitric oxide-dependent cutaneous vasodilation in response to local heating. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 307:R914-9