Relationship between sensorimotor peripheral nerve function and indicators of cardiovascular autonomic function in older adults from the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study

Exp Gerontol. 2017 Oct 1;96:38-45. doi: 10.1016/j.exger.2017.04.007. Epub 2017 Apr 22.


Background: Age-related peripheral nervous system (PNS) impairments are highly prevalent in older adults. Although sensorimotor and cardiovascular autonomic function have been shown to be related in persons with diabetes, the nature of the relationship in general community-dwelling older adult populations is unknown.

Methods: Health, Aging and Body Composition participants (n=2399, age=76.5±2.9years, 52% women, 38% black) underwent peripheral nerve testing at the 2000/01 clinic visit. Nerve conduction amplitude and velocity were measured at the peroneal motor nerve. Sensory nerve function was assessed with vibration detection threshold and monofilament (1.4-g/10-g) testing at the big toe. Symptoms of lower-extremity peripheral neuropathy were collected by self-report. Cardiovascular autonomic function indicators included postural hypotension, resting heart rate (HR), as well as HR response to and recovery from submaximal exercise testing (400m walk). Multivariable modeling adjusted for demographic/lifestyle factors, medication use and comorbid conditions.

Results: In fully adjusted models, poor motor nerve conduction velocity (<40m/s) was associated with greater odds of postural hypotension, (OR=1.6, 95% CI: 1.0-2.5), while poor motor amplitude (<1mV) was associated with 2.3beats/min (p=0.003) higher resting HR. No associations were observed between sensory nerve function or symptoms of peripheral neuropathy and indicators of cardiovascular autonomic function.

Conclusions: Motor nerve function and indicators of cardiovascular autonomic function remained significantly related even after considering many potentially shared risk factors. Future studies should investigate common underlying processes for developing multiple PNS impairments in older adults.

Keywords: Autonomic nervous system; Older adults; Peripheral nerves.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Hypotension, Orthostatic / physiopathology
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Neural Conduction / physiology
  • Peripheral Nerves / physiology*
  • Peripheral Nervous System Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Peroneal Nerve / physiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Walking / physiology