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1.  Somatosympathetic Vasoconstrictor Reflexes in Human Spinal Cord Injury: Responses to Innocuous and Noxious Sensory Stimulation below Lesion 
It is known that the sudden increases in blood pressure associated with autonomic dysreflexia in people with spinal cord injury (SCI) are due to a spinally mediated reflex activation of sympathetic vasoconstrictor neurons supplying skeletal muscle and the gut. Apart from visceral inputs, such as those originating from a distended bladder, there is a prevailing opinion that autonomic dysreflexia can be triggered by noxious stimulation below the lesion. However, do noxious inputs really cause an increase in blood pressure in SCI? Using microelectrodes inserted into a peripheral nerve to record sympathetic nerve activity we had previously shown that selective stimulation of small-diameter afferents in muscle or skin, induced by bolus injection of hypertonic saline into the tibialis anterior muscle or the overlying skin, evokes a sustained increase in muscle sympathetic nerve activity and blood pressure and a transient increase in skin sympathetic nerve activity and decrease in skin blood flow in able-bodied subjects. We postulated that these sympathetic responses would be exaggerated in SCI, with a purely noxious stimulus causing long-lasting increases in blood pressure and long-lasting decreases in skin blood flow. Surprisingly, though, we found that intramuscular or subcutaneous injection of hypertonic saline into the leg caused negligible changes in these parameters. Conversely, weak electrical stimulation over the abdominal wall, which in able-bodied subjects is not painful and activates large-diameter cutaneous afferents, caused a marked increase in blood pressure in SCI but not in able-bodied subjects. This suggests that it is activation of large-diameter somatic afferents, not small-diameter afferents, that triggers increases in sympathetic outflow in SCI. Whether the responses to activation of large-diameter afferents reflect plastic changes in the spinal cord in SCI is unknown.
doi:10.3389/fphys.2012.00215
PMCID: PMC3382416  PMID: 22737131
autonomic dysreflexia; innocuous stimulation; noxious stimulation; spinal cord injury; sympathetic nervous system
2.  Firing Patterns of Muscle Vasoconstrictor Neurons in Respiratory Disease 
Because the cardiovascular system and respiration are so intimately coupled, disturbances in respiratory control often lead to disturbances in cardiovascular control. Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA), Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and Bronchiectasis (BE) are all associated with a greatly elevated muscle vasoconstrictor drive (muscle sympathetic nerve activity, MSNA). Indeed, the increase in MSNA is comparable to that seen in congestive heart failure (CHF), in which the increase in MSNA compensates for the reduced cardiac output and thereby assists in maintaining blood pressure. However, in OSA – but not COPD or BE – the increase in MSNA can lead to hypertension. Here, the features of the sympathoexcitation in OSA, COPD, and BE are reviewed in terms of the firing properties of post-ganglionic muscle vasoconstrictor neurons. Compared to healthy subjects with low levels of resting MSNA, single-unit recordings revealed that the augmented MSNA seen in OSA, BE, COPD, and CHF were each associated with an increase in firing probability and mean firing rates of individual neurons. However, unlike patients with heart failure, all patients with respiratory disease exhibited an increase in multiple within-burst firing which, it is argued, reflects an increase in central sympathetic drive. Similar patterns to those seen in OSA, COPD, and BE were seen in healthy subjects during an acute increase in muscle vasoconstrictor drive. These observations emphasize the differences by which the sympathetic nervous system grades its output in health and disease, with an increase in firing probability of active neurons and recruitment of additional neurons being the dominant mechanisms.
doi:10.3389/fphys.2012.00153
PMCID: PMC3358712  PMID: 22654767
bronchiectasis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; obstructive sleep apnea; microneurography; single-unit; sympathoexcitation
3.  Functional Imaging of the Human Brainstem during Somatosensory Input and Autonomic Output 
Over the past half a century, many investigations in experimental animal have explored the functional roles of specific regions in the brainstem. Despite the accumulation of a considerable body of knowledge in, primarily, anesthetized preparations, relatively few studies have explored brainstem function in awake humans. It is important that human brainstem function is explored given that many neurological conditions, from obstructive sleep apnea, chronic pain, and hypertension, likely involve significant changes in the processing of information within the brainstem. Recent advances in the collection and processing of magnetic resonance images have resulted in the possibility of exploring brainstem activity changes in awake healthy individuals and in those with various clinical conditions. We and others have begun to explore changes in brainstem activity in humans during a number of challenges, including cutaneous and muscle pain, as well as during maneuvers that evoke increases in sympathetic nerve activity. More recently we have successfully recorded sympathetic nerve activity concurrently with functional magnetic resonance imaging of the brainstem, which will allow us, for the first time to explore brainstem sites directly responsible for conditions such as hypertension. Since many pathophysiological conditions no doubt involve changes in brainstem function and structure, defining these changes will likely result in a greater ability to develop more effective treatment regimens.
doi:10.3389/fnhum.2013.00569
PMCID: PMC3775150  PMID: 24062670
trigeminal nuclei; dorsal column nuclei; pain; sympathetic nerve activity; rostral ventrolateral medulla

Results 1-3 (3)