Sympathetic vasoconstriction is normally attenuated in exercising muscle, but this functional sympatholysis is impaired in rats with hypertension or heart failure due to elevated levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in muscle. Whether ROS have a similar effect in the absence of cardiovascular disease or whether these findings extend to humans is not known. We therefore tested the hypothesis that chronic treatment with nitroglycerin (NTG) to induce nitrate tolerance, which is associated with excessive ROS production, impairs functional sympatholysis in healthy rats and humans. NTG treatment increased ethidium fluorescence in rat muscles and urinary F 2-isoprostanes in humans, demonstrating oxidative stress. In vehicle-treated rats, sympathetic nerve stimulation (1 to 5 Hz) evoked decreases in femoral vascular conductance at rest (range, -30 to -63%) that were attenuated during hindlimb contraction (range, -2 to -31%;P< 0.05). In NTG-treated rats, vasoconstrictor responses were similar at rest, but were enhanced during contraction (range, -17 to -50%;P< 0.05vs.vehicle). Infusion of the ROS scavenger tempol restored sympatholysis in these rats. In humans, reflex sympathetic activation during lower body negative pressure (LBNP) evoked decreases in muscle oxygenation in resting forearm (-12 ± 1%) that were attenuated during handgrip exercise (-3 ± 1%;P< 0.05). When these subjects became nitrate tolerant, LBNP-induced decreases in muscle oxygenation were unaffected at rest, but were enhanced during exercise (-9 ± 1%;P< 0.05vs.before NTG). Collectively, these data indicate that functional sympatholysis is impaired in otherwise healthy nitrate-tolerant rats and humans by a mechanism probably involving muscle oxidative stress.
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