Chapter

Autonomic Physiology

William P. Cheshire

in Clinical Neurophysiology

Third edition

Published on behalf of © Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research

Published in print April 2009 | ISBN: 9780195385113
Published online April 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199322770 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/med/9780195385113.003.0035

Series: Contemporary Neurology Series

Autonomic Physiology

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The autonomic nervous system consists of three divisions: the sympathetic (thoracolumbar), parasympathetic (craniosacral), and enteric nervous systems. The sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic outflows involve a two-neuron pathway with a synapse in an autonomic ganglion. Preganglionic sympathetic neurons are organized into various functional units that control specific targets and include skin vasomotor, muscle vasomotor, visceromotor, pilomotor, and sudomotor units. Microneurographic techniques allow recording of postganglionic sympathetic nerve activity in humans. Skin sympathetic activity is a mixture of sudomotor and vasoconstrictor impulses and is regulated mainly by environmental temperature and emotional influences. Muscle sympathetic activity is composed of vasoconstrictor impulses that are strongly modulated by arterial baroreceptors. Heart rate is controlled by vagal parasympathetic and thoracic sympathetic inputs. Vagal influence on the heart rate is strongly modulated by respiration; it is more marked during expiration and is absent during inspiration. This is the basis for the so-called respiratory sinus arrhythmia, which is an important index of vagal innervation of the heart. Power spectral analysis of heart rate fluctuations allows noninvasive assessment of beat-to-beat modulation of neuronal activity affecting the heart. Arterial baroreflex, cardiopulmonary reflexes, venoarteriolar reflex, and ergoreflexes control sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on cardiovascular effectors. The main regulatory mechanism that prevents orthostatic hypotension is reflex arterial vasoconstriction in the splanchnic, renal, and muscular beds triggered by a decrease in transmural pressure at the level of carotid sinus baroreceptors.

Chapter.  6680 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Neurology

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