Role of the heart in blood pressure lowering during chronic baroreflex activation: insight from an in silico analysis

Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2018 Nov 1;315(5):H1368-H1382. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00302.2018. Epub 2018 Jul 13.


Electrical stimulation of the baroreflex chronically suppresses sympathetic activity and arterial pressure and is currently being evaluated for the treatment of resistant hypertension. The antihypertensive effects of baroreflex activation are often attributed to renal sympathoinhibition. However, baroreflex activation also decreases heart rate, and robust blood pressure lowering occurs even after renal denervation. Because controlling renal sympathetic nerve activity (RSNA) and cardiac autonomic activity cannot be achieved experimentally, we used an established mathematical model of human physiology (HumMod) to provide mechanistic insights into their relative and combined contributions to the cardiovascular responses during baroreflex activation. Three-week responses to baroreflex activation closely mimicked experimental observations in dogs including decreases in blood pressure, heart rate, and plasma norepinephrine and increases in plasma atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), providing validation of the model. Simulations showed that baroreflex-induced alterations in cardiac sympathetic and parasympathetic activity lead to a sustained depression of cardiac function and increased secretion of ANP. Increased ANP and suppression of RSNA both enhanced renal excretory function and accounted for most of the chronic blood pressure lowering during baroreflex activation. However, when suppression of RSNA was blocked, the blood pressure response to baroreflex activation was not appreciably impaired due to inordinate fluid accumulation and further increases in atrial pressure and ANP secretion. These simulations provide a mechanistic understanding of experimental and clinical observations showing that baroreflex activation effectively lowers blood pressure in subjects with previous renal denervation. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Both experimental and clinical studies have shown that the presence of renal nerves is not an obligate requirement for sustained reductions in blood pressure during chronic electrical stimulation of the carotid baroreflex. Simulations using HumMod, a mathematical model of integrative human physiology, indicated that both increased secretion of atrial natriuretic peptide and suppressed renal sympathetic nerve activity play key roles in mediating long-term reductions in blood pressure during chronic baroreflex activation.

Keywords: atrial natriuretic peptide; baroreflex; blood pressure; modeling; sympathetic nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arterial Pressure*
  • Atrial Natriuretic Factor / blood
  • Autonomic Nervous System / metabolism
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology*
  • Baroreflex*
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Dogs
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy
  • Heart / innervation*
  • Heart Rate*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / blood
  • Hypertension / physiopathology*
  • Hypertension / therapy
  • Kidney / innervation*
  • Models, Animal
  • Models, Cardiovascular*
  • Norepinephrine / blood
  • Pressoreceptors / physiopathology*
  • Sympathectomy
  • Time Factors


  • Atrial Natriuretic Factor
  • Norepinephrine