Biochemical evidence of sympathetic hyperactivity in human hypertension.
Radiotracer measures of norepinephrine overflow to plasma are well suited for studying both human sympathetic nervous system responses to mental stress and sympathetic nervous pathophysiology in human hypertension. With an experimental laboratory stressor (cognitive challenge), we noted a preferential activation of the cardiac sympathetic outflow; however, in fainting reactions ("vasovagal syncope"), which occur infrequently during the course of central venous catheter placement under local anesthesia, the converse was seen--an almost total withdrawal of cardiac sympathetic activity. In primary human hypertension (particularly in younger patients), a differentiated activation of the sympathetic outflow to the heart and kidneys is present, based on measurements of norepinephrine spillover to plasma. It is uncertain whether this is attributable to behavioral factors and represents a component of the defense reaction. We previously reported overflow of norepinephrine into the cerebrovascular circulation (with high internal jugular venous sampling) in humans. Because this is resistant to ganglion blockade, brain neurons--not the cerebrovascular sympathetics--are the presumed source. In a preliminary study, we found higher rates of norepinephrine spillover into the cerebrovascular circulation in patients with essential hypertension than in healthy subjects, suggesting that an underlying increase in central nervous system norepinephrine turnover may be the basis for the increased sympathetic outflow.