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Sympathetic Neural Reactivity to Mental Stress in Humans: Reliability, Heredity and Race

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Monday, October 10, 2016, 2 pm– 3 pm

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Ida Fonkoue, Ph.D. Candidate
Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences
Michigan Technological Univesity

One in three Americans suffers from hypertension and another 1/3 is diagnosed as prehypertensive according to the latest heart and stroke statistics. The sympathetic nervous system, widely recognized as a key regulator of blood pressure, is believed to be hyperactive in hypertensive patients. The muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) response to laboratory stressors, like mental stress, has been extensively used in human experiments to study the sympathetic outflow of individuals with a higher chance of developing high blood pressure later in life.

Family history of hypertension (FHH) and race are two widely known risk factors for essential hypertension, but the physiological mechanisms underlying these relations are not clearly elucidated. Although mental stress consistently increases arterial blood pressure, it is often associated with a highly variable MSNA responsiveness between individuals.

Therefore, to investigate the reliability of MSNA measures and the role of FHH and race on the sympathetic reactivity to mental stress, we randomly recruited healthy normotensive young adults and conducted a series of studies exploring the potential neural mechanisms predisposing those populations to hypertension. Neural and cardiovascular measurements included blood pressure (sphygmomanometer and beat-to-beat finger plethysomography), heart rate (HR; electrocardiogram), and MSNA (via microneurography).

The results of this investigation demonstrate the stability of the sympathetic neural reactivity to mental stress and, more importantly, reveal the impact of heredity and race on that reactivity.

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