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Physiol Rep. 2013 Mar;1(1). pii: e00002.

Mental Stress Elicits Sustained and Reproducible Increases in Skin Sympathetic Nerve Activity.

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Penn State Heart & Vascular Institute, Department of Cellular and Molecular Physiology, Clinical Research Center, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, The Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, PA 17033.


Mental stress (MS) is a known trigger of myocardial infarction and sudden death. By activating the sympathetic nervous system, MS may have deleterious effect on the cardiovascular system but this process is not completely understood. The primary aim of this study was to quantify the effect of MS on skin sympathetic nerve activity (SSNA). The secondary aim was to determine the reproducibility of SSNA to MS within a given day and ~1 week later. Ten subjects (26±1 yr.) performed two bouts of mental arithmetic lasting 3 min. The bouts were separated by 45 min. One week later the subjects returned to repeat MS. All experiments were conducted in the supine posture during the morning hours. To maintain neutral skin temperature, each subject wore a custom suit (34-35°C). Skin blood flow and sweat rate were measured on the dorsal foot. MS elicited a marked increase in SSNA within the first 10 s (184±42%; P<0.01) in all subjects, which was less during the remaining period of MS but remained elevated (87±20; P<0.01). The pattern of responses to MS was unchanged during the second bout (10 s, 247±55%; 3 min avg., 133±29%) and during the retest 1 week later (10 s, 196±55%; 3 min avg., 117±36%). MS did not significantly affect cutaneous vascular conductance or sweat rate during any trial. In summary, MS elicits robust and reproducible increases in SSNA in humans which may be followed over time to observe alterations in the regulation of the autonomic nervous system.


blood pressure; heart rate; psychosocial stress; reproducibility of results

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