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1.  Skin sympathetic nerve activity in humans during exposure to emotionally-charged images: sex differences 
While it is known that anxiety or emotional arousal affects skin sympathetic nerve activity (SSNA), the galvanic skin response (GSR) is the most widely used parameter to infer increases in SSNA during stress or emotional studies. We recently showed that SSNA provides a more sensitive measure of emotional state than effector-organ responses. The aim of the present study was to assess whether there are gender differences in the responses of SSNA and other physiological parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate, skin blood flow and sweat release, while subjects viewed neutral or emotionally-charged images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). Changes in SSNA were assessed using microneurography in 20 subjects (10 male and 10 female). Blocks of positively-charged (erotica) or negatively-charge images (mutilation) were presented in a quasi-random fashion, following a block of neutral images, with each block containing 15 images and lasting 2 min. Images of both erotica and mutilation caused significant increases in SSNA, with increases being greater for males viewing erotica and greater for females viewing mutilation. The increases in SSNA were often coupled with sweat release and cutaneous vasoconstriction; however, these markers were not significantly different than those produced by viewing neutral images and were not always consistent with the SSNA increases. We conclude that SSNA increases with both positively-charged and negatively-charged emotional images, yet sex differences are present.
doi:10.3389/fphys.2014.00111
PMCID: PMC3958733  PMID: 24678303
skin sympathetic nerve activity; emotional processing; sex differences; sweat release; microneurography
2.  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
3.  Autonomic markers of emotional processing: skin sympathetic nerve activity in humans during exposure to emotionally charged images 
The sympathetic innervation of the skin primarily subserves thermoregulation, but the system has also been commandeered as a means of expressing emotion. While it is known that the level of skin sympathetic nerve activity (SSNA) is affected by anxiety, the majority of emotional studies have utilized the galvanic skin response as a means of inferring increases in SSNA. The purpose of the present study was to characterize the changes in SSNA when showing subjects neutral or emotionally charged images from the International Affective Picture System (IAPS). SSNA was recorded via tungsten microelectrodes inserted into cutaneous fascicles of the common peroneal nerve in ten subjects. Neutral images, positively charged images (erotica) or negatively charged images (mutilation) were presented in blocks of fifteen images of a specific type, each block lasting 2 min. Images of erotica or mutilation were presented in a quasi-random fashion, each block following a block of neutral images. Both images of erotica or images of mutilation caused significant increases in SSNA, but the increases in SSNA were greater for mutilation. The increases in SSNA were often coupled with sweat release and cutaneous vasoconstriction; however, these markers were not always consistent with the SSNA increases. We conclude that SSNA, comprising cutaneous vasoconstrictor and sudomotor activity, increases with both positively charged and negatively charged emotional images. Measurement of SSNA provides a more comprehensive assessment of sympathetic outflow to the skin than does the use of sweat release alone as a marker of emotional processing.
doi:10.3389/fphys.2012.00394
PMCID: PMC3461643  PMID: 23060818
skin sympathetic nerve activity; emotionally charged images; microneurography; sweat release; skin blood flow

Results 1-3 (3)