Graduation Date

Summer 8-19-2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cellular & Integrative Physiology

First Advisor

Irving H. Zucker, Ph.D.


The autonomic nervous system is a master regulator of homeostasis, and the conviction that autonomic outflow is important on a patient-by-patient, minute-to-minute basis in both health and disease is the motivation for this thesis. The dissertation explores three aims that advance our understanding of the autonomic nervous system by elucidating the molecular mechanisms of autonomic regulation, validating widely used techniques for autonomic assessment, and developing and applying a new method to assess sympathetic vascular control.

The first aim of the dissertation was to investigate the role of the Rho kinase pathway as a mediator of the autonomic effects of central angiotensin-II. This study was performed in conscious, chronically instrumented rabbits that received intracerebroventricular infusions of angiotensin-II, angiotensin-II with the specific Rho kinase inhibitor Fasudil, Fasudil alone, or a vehicle control over two weeks. Baseline hemodynamics were assessed daily, and cardiac and global vasomotor sympathetic tone was assessed by the hemodynamic response to autonomic blockers. Angiotensin-II raised blood pressure and cardiac and global vasomotor sympathetic outflow in a Rho-kinase dependent manner. In a separate cohort, renal sympathetic nerve activity was directly recorded and sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity was assessed, providing clear evidence that angiotensin-II increases renal sympathetic nerve activity and impairs baroreflex control thereof via a Rho kinase-dependent mechanism. In summary, the pressor, sympatho-excitatory, and baroreflex dysfunction caused by central angiotensin-II depend on Rho kinase activation.

The second aim was to investigate the relationship between measures of pulse rate variability obtained by a chronically implanted arterial pressure telemeter with measures of heart rate variability derived by the standard electrocardiogram and the ability of pulse rate variability to reflect the autonomic contributions of heart rate variability. This study was conducted in conscious rabbits chronically instrumented with epicardial leads and arterial pressure telemeters. The autonomic contribution to pulse rate variability was assessed by pharmacological blockade, and the intrinsic variability of pulse rate was assessed by ventricular pacing. This study showed that pulse rate variability is a generally acceptable surrogate for heart rate variability for time- and frequency-domain measures, but the additional contribution of respiration to and the differing nonlinear properties of pulse rate variability should be considered by investigators.

The third aim was to critically test the idea that the renal sympathetic nerves do not participate in the physiological control of renal blood flow. This study was conducted in conscious rabbits that underwent unilateral renal denervation and chronic instrumentation with arterial pressure telemeters and bilateral renal blood flow probes. Using time-varying transfer function analysis, this study showed active, rhythmic vasoconstriction of the renal vasculature with baroreflex properties in normally innervated kidneys, consistent with sympathetic vasomotion, which was absent in denervated kidneys. This refutes the long-held idea that sympathetic control of the renal vasculature is not physiological and has important applications to the burgeoning field of therapeutic renal denervation for cardiovascular disease.