Effects of short-term and prolonged bed rest on the vestibulosympathetic reflex

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2012 Jan 1;302(1):H368-74. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00193.2011. Epub 2011 Oct 21.


The mechanism(s) for post-bed rest (BR) orthostatic intolerance is equivocal. The vestibulosympathetic reflex contributes to postural blood pressure regulation. It was hypothesized that muscle sympathetic nerve responses to otolith stimulation would be attenuated by prolonged head-down BR. Arterial blood pressure, heart rate, muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA), and peripheral vascular conductance were measured during head-down rotation (HDR; otolith organ stimulation) in the prone posture before and after short-duration (24 h; n = 22) and prolonged (36 ± 1 day; n = 8) BR. Head-up tilt at 80° was performed to assess orthostatic tolerance. After short-duration BR, MSNA responses to HDR were preserved (Δ5 ± 1 bursts/min, Δ53 ± 13% burst frequency, Δ65 ± 13% total activity; P < 0.001). After prolonged BR, MSNA responses to HDR were attenuated ∼50%. MSNA increased by Δ8 ± 2 vs. Δ3 ± 2 bursts/min and Δ83 ± 12 vs. Δ34 ± 22% total activity during HDR before and after prolonged BR, respectively. Moreover, these results were observed in three subjects tested again after 75 ± 1 days of BR. This reduction in MSNA responses to otolith organ stimulation at 5 wk occurred with reductions in head-up tilt duration. These results indicate that prolonged BR (∼5 wk) unlike short-term BR (24 h) attenuates the vestibulosympathetic reflex and possibly contributes to orthostatic intolerance following BR in humans. These results suggest a novel mechanism in the development of orthostatic intolerance in humans.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bed Rest / adverse effects*
  • Blood Pressure
  • Female
  • Head-Down Tilt
  • Heart Rate
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / blood supply
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*
  • Orthostatic Intolerance / etiology*
  • Orthostatic Intolerance / physiopathology
  • Pennsylvania
  • Reflex*
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Rotation
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Vestibule, Labyrinth / innervation*
  • Young Adult