Cardiovascular regulation by skeletal muscle reflexes in health and disease

Megan N. Murphy, Masaki Mizuno, Jere H. Mitchell, Scott A. Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


Heart rate and blood pressure are elevated at the onset and throughout the duration of dynamic or static exercise. These neutrally mediated cardiovascular adjustments to physical activity are regulated, in part, by a peripheral reflex originating in contracting skeletal muscle termed the exercise pressor reflex. Mechanically sensitive and metabolically sensitive receptors activating the exercise pressor reflex are located on the unencapsulated nerve terminals of group III and group IV afferent sensory neurons, respectively. Mechanoreceptors are stimulated by the physical distortion of their receptive fields during muscle contraction and can be sensitized by the production of metabolites generated by working skeletal myocytes. The chemical by-products of muscle contraction also stimulate metaboreceptors. Once activated, group III and IV sensory impulses are transmitted to cardiovascular control centers within the brain stem where they are integrated and processed. Activation of the reflex results in an increase in efferent sympathetic nerve activity and a withdrawal of parasympathetic nerve activity. These actions result in the precise alterations in cardiovascular hemodynamics requisite to meet the metabolic demands of working skeletal muscle. Coordinated activity by this reflex is altered after the development of cardiovascular disease, generating exaggerated increases in sympathetic nerve activity, blood pressure, heart rate, and vascular resistance. The basic components and operational characteristics of the reflex, the techniques used in human and animals to study the reflex, and the emerging evidence describing the dysfunction of the reflex with the advent of cardiovascular disease are highlighted in this review.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H1191-H1204
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2011


  • Heart failure
  • Hypertension
  • Mechanoreflex
  • Metaboreflex
  • Sensory neurons

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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