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J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Mar;112(6):1001-7. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01207.2011. Epub 2012 Jan 5.

Impact of gender on the cardiac autonomic response to angiotensin II in healthy humans.

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Faculty of Medicine, University of Calgary, Alberta, Canada.


Premenopausal women have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) compared with men of a similar age. Furthermore, the regulation of factors that influence CVD appears to differ between the sexes, including control of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and the renin-angiotensin system. We examined the cardiac ANS response to angiotensin II (Ang II) challenge in healthy subjects to determine whether differences in women and men exist. Thirty-six healthy subjects (21 women, 15 men, age 38 ± 2 years) were studied in a high-salt balance. Heart-rate variability (HRV) was calculated by spectral power analysis [low-frequency (LF) sympathetic modulation, high-frequency (HF) parasympathetic/vagal modulation, and LF:HF as a measure of overall ANS balance]. HRV was assessed at baseline and in response to graded Ang II infusions (3 ng·kg(-1)·min(-1) × 30 min; 6 ng·kg(-1)·min(-1) × 30 min). Cardiac ANS tone did not change significantly in women after each Ang II dose [3 ng·kg(-1)·min(-1) mean change (Δ)LF:HF (mean ± SE) 0.5 ± 0.3, P = 0.8, vs. baseline; 6 ng·kg(-1)·min(-1) ΔLF:HF (mean ± SE) 0.5 ± 0.4, P = 0.4, vs. baseline], whereas men exhibited an unfavorable shift in overall cardiac ANS activity in response to Ang II (ΔLF:HF 2.6 ± 0.2, P = 0.01, vs. baseline; P = 0.02 vs. female response). This imbalance in sympathovagal tone appeared to be largely driven by a withdrawal in cardioprotective vagal activity in response to Ang II challenge [ΔHF normalized units (nu), -5.8 ± 2.9, P = 0.01, vs. baseline; P = 0.006 vs. women] rather than an increase in sympathetic activity (ΔLF nu, -4.5 ± 5.7, P = 0.3, vs. baseline; P = 0.5 vs. women). Premenopausal women maintain cardiac ANS tone in response to Ang II challenge, whereas similarly aged men exhibit an unfavorable shift in cardiovagal activity. Understanding the role of gender in ANS modulation may help guide risk-reduction strategies in high-risk CVD populations.

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