Blood pressure reactivity at onset of mental stress determines sympathetic vascular response in young adults

Khadigeh El Sayed, Vaughan G. Macefield, Sarah L. Hissen, Michael Joseph Joyner, Chloe E. Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

2 Scopus citations


We have previously shown in young males that the rate of rise in blood pressure (BP) at the onset of mental stress determines whether or not muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) has a role in driving the pressor response. The aim of this study was to investigate these interactions in young females. BP and MSNA were recorded continuously in 19 females and 21 males during 2-min mental stressors (mental arithmetic and Stroop test). Physical stressor tasks (cold pressor, handgrip exercise, postexercise ischemia) were also performed. During the first minute of mental arithmetic, the rate of rise in mean arterial pressure (MAP) was significantly greater in negative responders (mean decrease in MSNA) compared with positive responders (mean increase in MSNA) in both males (1.9 ± 0.7 vs. 0.7 ± 0.3 mmHg/sec) and females (1.0 ± 0.3 vs. 0.5 ± 0.2 mmHg/sec). For the Stroop test, there was no significant difference in the rate of the rise in BP between positive and negative responders (P > 0.05). However, peak changes in MAP were significantly greater in negative responders compared with positive responders in both males (22 ± 6 vs. 13 ± 3 mmHg) and females (12 ± 2 vs. 6 ± 1 mmHg). Sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity was greater in negative responders and may contribute to the fall in MSNA experienced by these individuals during mental stress. During physical stressors there were consistent increases in BP and MSNA in males and females. The findings suggest that, in both males and females, BP reactivity at the onset of mental stress dictates whether or not there is an increase or decrease in MSNA.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere13944
JournalPhysiological Reports
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 1 2018



  • Baroreflex sensitivity
  • mental stress
  • muscle sympathetic nerve activity
  • sex differences

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

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