Structural versus functional modulation of the arterial baroreflex

Mark W. Chapleau, J. Thomas Cunningham, Margaret J. Sullivan, Ruth E. Wachtel, François M. Abboud

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

148 Scopus citations


Structural changes in large arteries are often considered the predominant mechanism responsible for decreased baroreflex sensitivity and baroreceptor resetting in hypertension, atherosclerosis, and aging. Recent work has demonstrated that 'functional' mechanisms, both at the level of the peripheral sensory endings and within the central nervous system, contribute significantly to altered baroreflex responses. We have conducted both reductive studies of mechanoelectrical transduction in cultured baroreceptor neurons an integrative studies with in vivo recordings of the activity of baroreceptor afferent fibers and efferent sympathetic nerves. Results suggest that the primary mechanism of mechanical activation of baroreceptor neurons involves opening of stretch-activated ion channels susceptible to blockade by gadolinium. Baroreceptor nerve activity is modulated by the activity of potassium channels and the sodium-potassium pump and by paracrine factors, including prostacyclin, oxygen free radicals, and factors released from aggregating platelets. Endothelial dysfunction and altered release of these paracrine factors contribute significantly to the decreased baroreceptor sensitivity in hypertension and atherosclerosis. The central mediation of the baroreflex depends on the pulse phasic pattern of afferent baroreceptor discharge. Baroreflex-mediated inhibition of sympathetic nerve activity is well maintained during pulse phasic afferent activity. Continuous, nonphasic baroreceptor discharge or a rapid (>1.5 Hz) pulse phasic discharge results in disinhibition of sympathetic activity. This disinhibition during continuous baroreceptor input is exaggerated with aging. Thus, a defect in central mediation of the baroreflex may be a major cause of the impaired baroreflex and sympathoexcitation in the elderly. In summary, functional neural mechanisms, in addition to structural vascular changes, contribute importantly to altered baroreflex responses in normal and pathophysiological states. Therefore, it may be possible to implement therapies that reverse functional changes and restore baroreflex sensitivity long before the reversal of structural vascular changes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)341-347
Number of pages7
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 1995


  • aging
  • atherosclerosis
  • baroreflex
  • carotid sinus
  • endothelium
  • hypertension
  • ion channels
  • sympathetic nerve activity


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