The precise role of the sympathetic nervous system in the regulation of skeletal muscle blood flow during exercise has been challenging to define in humans, partly because of the limited techniques available for measuring blood flow in active muscle. Recent studies using near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy to measure changes in tissue oxygenation have provided an alternative method to evaluate vasomotor responses in exercising muscle, but this approach has not been fully validated. In this study, we tested the hypothesis that sympathetic activation would evoke parallel changes in tissue oxygenation and blood flow in resting and exercising muscle. We simultaneously measured tissue oxygenation with NIR spectroscopy and blood flow with Doppler ultrasound in skeletal muscle of conscious humans (n = 13) and anesthetized rats (n = 9). In resting forearm of humans, refiex reflex activation of sympathetic nerves with the use of lower body negative pressure produced graded decreases in tissue oxygenation and blood flow that were highly correlated (r = 0.80, P < 0.0001). Similarly, in resting hindlimb of rats, electrical stimulation of sympathetic nerves produced graded decreases in tissue oxygenation and blood flow velocity that were highly correlated (r = 0.93, P < 0.0001). During rhythmic muscle contraction, the decreases in tissue oxygenation and blood flow evoked by sympathetic activation were significantly attenuated (P < 0.05 vs. rest) but remained highly correlated in both humans (r = 0.80, P < 0.006) and rats (r = 0.92, P < 0.0001). These data indicate that, during steady-state metabolic conditions, changes in tissue oxygenation can be used to reliably assess sympathetic vasoconstriction in both resting and exercising skeletal muscle.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Physiology (medical)