Effects of Prolonged Head-Down Bed Rest on Cardiac and Vascular Baroreceptor Modulation and Orthostatic Tolerance in Healthy Individuals

Franca Barbic, Karsten Heusser, Maura Minonzio, Dana Shiffer, Beatrice Cairo, Jens Tank, Jens Jordan, André Diedrich, Peter Gauger, Roberto Antonio Zamuner, Alberto Porta, Raffaello Furlan

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Orthostatic intolerance commonly occurs after prolonged bed rest, thus increasing the risk of syncope and falls. Baroreflex-mediated adjustments of heart rate and sympathetic vasomotor activity (muscle sympathetic nerve activity – MSNA) are crucial for orthostatic tolerance. We hypothesized that prolonged bed rest deconditioning alters overall baroreceptor functioning, thereby reducing orthostatic tolerance in healthy volunteers. As part of the European Space Agency Medium-term Bed Rest protocol, 10 volunteers were studied before and after 21 days of −6° head down bed rest (HDBR). In both conditions, subjects underwent ECG, beat-by-beat blood pressure, respiratory activity, and MSNA recordings while supine (REST) and during a 15-min 80° head-up tilt (TILT) followed by a 3-min −10 mmHg stepwise increase of lower body negative pressure to pre-syncope. Cardiac baroreflex sensitivity (cBRS) was obtained in the time (sequence method) and frequency domain (spectrum and cross-spectrum analyses of RR interval and systolic arterial pressure – SAP, variability). Baroreceptor modulation of sympathetic discharge activity to the vessels (sBRS) was estimated by the slope of the regression line between the percentage of MSNA burst occurrence and diastolic arterial pressure. Orthostatic tolerance significantly decreased after HDBR (12 ± 0.6 min) compared to before (21 ± 0.6 min). While supine, heart rate, SAP, and cBRS were unchanged before and after HDBR, sBRS gain was slightly depressed after than before HDBR (sBRS: −6.0 ± 1.1 versus −2.9 ± 1.5 burst% × mmHg−1, respectively). During TILT, HR was higher after than before HDBR (116 ± 4 b/min versus 100 ± 4 b/min, respectively), SAP was unmodified in both conditions, and cBRS indexes were lower after HDBR (α index: 3.4 ± 0.7 ms/mmHg; BRSSEQ 4.0 ± 1.0) than before (α index: 6.4 ± 1.0 ms/mmHg; BRSSEQ 6.8 ± 1.2). sBRS gain was significantly more depressed after HDBR than before (sBRS: −2.3 ± 0.7 versus −4.4 ± 0.4 burst% × mmHg−1, respectively). Our findings suggest that baroreflex-mediated adjustments in heart rate and MSNA are impaired after prolonged bed rest. The mechanism likely contributes to the decrease in orthostatic tolerance.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1061
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - Aug 23 2019


  • baroreflex sensitivity
  • bed rest
  • muscle sympathetic nerve activity
  • orthostatic intolerance
  • spectrum analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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