Sympathetic nervous system behavior in human obesity

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2009 Feb;33(2):116-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2008.05.024. Epub 2008 May 28.


The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) plays an essential role in the regulation of metabolic and cardiovascular homeostasis. Low SNS activity has been suggested to be a risk factor for weight gain and obesity development. In contrast, SNS activation is characteristic of a number of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases that occur more frequently in obese individuals. Until recently, the relation between obesity and SNS behavior has been controversial because previous approaches for assessing SNS activity in humans have produced inconsistent findings. Beginning in the early 1990s, many studies using state of the art neurochemical and neurophysiological techniques have provided important insight. The purpose of the present review is to provide an overview of our current understanding of the region specific alterations in SNS behavior in human obesity. We will discuss findings from our own laboratory which implicate visceral fat as an important depot linking obesity with skeletal muscle SNS activation. The influence of weight change on SNS behavior and the potential mechanisms and consequences of region specific SNS activation in obesity will also be considered.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Energy Metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intra-Abdominal Fat* / metabolism
  • Kidney / blood supply
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply
  • Obesity / etiology
  • Obesity / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / pathology
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Weight Gain*