Autonomic responsiveness to acute cold exposure in obese and non-obese young women

Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1999 Aug;23(8):793-800. doi: 10.1038/sj.ijo.0800928.


Objective: Conflicting results have emerged over the nature of autonomic nervous system abnormalities in human obesity. This present study was designed to investigate the sympatho-vagal activities and their responsiveness to acute cold exposure in age- and height-matched obese and non-obese young women.

Subjects: Twenty-four age- and height-matched obese (Weight: 68.1 +/- 2.64 kg, BMI: 26.3 +/- 0.74 kg/m2, %Fat: 39.9 +/- 1.23%) and non-obese young women (Weight: 46.9 +/- 0.77 kg, BMI: 18.5 +/- 0.18 kg/m2, %Fat: 22.9 +/- 0.8%).

Measurements: Plasma leptin, insulin, glucose and lipid concentrations were measured at rest. The sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous system activities were assessed by means of power spectral analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) for 15 min under control (25 degrees C) or acute cold exposure (10 degrees C) conditions. The very low (VLO) frequency component, and SNS (low/high power), and PNS (high/total power) indexes were used to evaluate thermoregulatory sympathetic function, and cardiac sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous activities, respectively.

Results: Plasma leptin concentration was significantly greater in the obese than in the control group (47.3 +/- 7.00 vs 12.1 +/- 1.22, P < 0.001). There was a highly positive correlation between plasma leptin concentration and percent of body fat (r = 0.863, P < 0.001). During the resting condition, there was no significant difference in any of the parameters of the HRV between the obese and control groups. Upon acute cold exposure, the VLO frequency component associated with thermoregulation (309 +/- 49.9 vs 578 +/- 142.2 ms2, P < 0.05) as well as its responsiveness (25-10 degrees C delta changes: 17 +/- 82.9 vs 326 +/- 138.2 ms2, P < 0.05) were significantly lower in the obese than in the control group.

Conclusion: Our data indicate that a reduced autonomic, especially sympathetic responsiveness associated with thermoregulation and possibly leptin resistance might be aetiological factors of obesity in young women.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Body Temperature Regulation*
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Female
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Leptin
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Proteins / metabolism


  • Leptin
  • Proteins