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J Clin Invest. Aug 1986; 78(2): 366–374.
PMCID: PMC423555

Baroreflex control of plasma norepinephrine and heart period in healthy subjects and diabetic patients.


Resting diabetic patients may have excessively rapid heart rates, reduced heart rate variability, and subnormal plasma catecholamine levels. Although all of these abnormalities may relate in some way to baroreceptor reflex function, there have been surprisingly few attempts to evaluate systematically baroreflex mechanisms in diabetic patients. Accordingly, we studied autonomic responses over a range of pharmacologically induced arterial pressure changes in 10 unselected young adult insulin-dependent diabetic patients who had no symptoms of autonomic neuropathy, and 12 age-matched nondiabetic subjects. Sympathetic responses were estimated from antecubital vein plasma norepinephrine levels, and parasympathetic responses were estimated from electrocardiographic R-R intervals and their variability (standard deviation). Both were correlated with other noninvasive indexes of peripheral and central nervous system function. Multiple derangements of baroreflex function were found in the diabetic patients studied. Sympathetic abnormalities included subnormal baseline norepinephrine levels, virtual absence of changes of norepinephrine levels during changes of arterial pressure, and supranormal pressor responses to phenylephrine infusions. Parasympathetic abnormalities included subnormal baseline standard deviations of R-R intervals, and R-R interval prolongations during elevations of arterial pressure which were unmistakably present, but subnormal. Our data suggest that in diabetic patients, subnormal baseline plasma norepinephrine levels may signify profound, possibly structural defects of sympathetic pathways. Subnormal resting levels of respiratory sinus arrhythmia may have different implications, however, since vagal, unlike sympathetic reflex abnormalities, can be reversed partly by arterial pressure elevations.

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Selected References

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