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Exp Physiol. 2006 Jan;91(1):89-102. Epub 2005 Nov 10.

The mammalian exercise pressor reflex in health and disease.

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Department of Physical Therapy, Harry S. Moss Heart Center, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX 75390-9174 USA.


The exercise pressor reflex (a peripheral neural reflex originating in skeletal muscle) contributes significantly to the regulation of the cardiovascular system during exercise. Exercise-induced signals that comprise the afferent arm of the reflex are generated by activation of mechanically (muscle mechanoreflex) and chemically sensitive (muscle metaboreflex) skeletal muscle receptors. Activation of these receptors and their associated afferent fibres reflexively adjusts sympathetic and parasympathetic nerve activity during exercise. In heart failure, the cardiovascular response to exercise is augmented. Owing to the peripheral skeletal myopathy that develops in heart failure (e.g. muscle atrophy, decreased peripheral blood flow, fibre-type transformation and reduced oxidative capacity), the exercise pressor reflex has been implicated as a possible mechanism by which the cardiovascular response to physical activity is exaggerated in this disease. Accumulating evidence supports this conclusion. This review therefore focuses on the role of the exercise pressor reflex in regulating the cardiovascular system during exercise in both health and disease. Updates on our current understanding of the exercise pressor reflex neural pathway as well as experimental models used to study this reflex are presented. In addition, special emphasis is placed on the changes in exercise pressor reflex activity that develop in heart failure, including the contributions of the muscle mechanoreflex and metaboreflex to this pressor reflex dysfunction.

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