Sympathetic tone restrains arterial distensibility of healthy and atherosclerotic subjects

J Hypertens. 1999 Aug;17(8):1117-23. doi: 10.1097/00004872-199917080-00011.


Background: Sympathetic activation induced by cold pressor test or cigarette smoking is accompanied by a marked reduction of radial artery distensibility. It is not known, however, whether arterial distensibility is under tonic sympathetic restraint, or whether this restraint involves arteries greater than the radial one in both normal and pathological conditions.

Methods: We studied the distensibility of radial artery by continuous ultrasonographic assessment of the changes in arterial diameter over the diasto-systolic pressure range (finger pressure measurement) in eight patients with a Dupuytren disease before and 20 min after ipsilateral brachial plexus anaesthesia. We also studied ultrasonographic distensibility of femoral artery in seven subjects before and 20 min after ipsilateral subarachnoid anaesthesia, performed before arthroscopic surgery, and in five patients with claudicatio intermittens before and 1 month after ipsilateral removal of the lumbar sympathectomy chain. In all three conditions, the contralateral artery served as control.

Results: The three interventions did not cause any significant alteration in blood pressure and heart rate. Radial artery distensibility was markedly increased by ipsilateral anaesthesia of the brachial plexus (+36%, P<0.01). This was the case also for femoral artery distensibility both following ipsilateral subarachnoid anaesthesia in healthy subjects (+47%, P<0.05) or ipsilateral sympathetic gangliectomy in patients with peripheral artery disease (+26%, P<0.05). In all three instances, the distensibility of the contralateral artery remained unaffected.

Conclusions: These data indicate that the sympathetic nervous system exerts a marked tonic restraint of arterial distensibility. This restraint involves medium-size and large muscular arteries and can also be seen in subjects with peripheral artery disease. This stiffening influence may increase the traumatic effect of intravascular pressure on the vessel wall and favour atherosclerosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arteriosclerosis / physiopathology*
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Blood Pressure
  • Female
  • Femoral Artery / physiopathology
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Radial Artery / physiopathology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*