Influence of sympathetic activity in the control of peripheral microvascular tone in preterm infants
Background: Microvascular dysregulation following preterm birth is associated with increased illness severity and hypotension, particularly in males. Sympathetic nervous vascular regulation is evident in females. We hypothesized that sympathetic dysfunction in male preterm infants may contribute to a failure of peripheral microvascular vasoconstriction.
Methods: Microvascular blood flow of infants 24-43 wk gestational age was assessed at 6, 24, and 72 h of age by laser Doppler. Blood flow Fourier transformed frequency distribution spectra (low frequency/high frequency ratio) were used to assess the influence of sympathetic tone on microvascular regulation. Total sympathetic output was assessed as urinary normetanephrine.
Results: Microvascular sympathetic activity at 24 h postnatal age decreased in early preterm males, but not females. Peripheral sympathetic activity increased with advancing postnatal age in females, but decreased in males. In early preterm infants, total normetanephrine outputs increase significantly with postnatal age, in both sexes.
Conclusion: Sympathetic activation following preterm birth is sexually dimorphic, with preterm males having reduced sympathetic tone and reduced upregulation of sympathetic tone following birth. There is evidence of a disconnect between central sympathetic activity and local peripheral microcirculatory sympathetic drive. This may relate to autonomic nervous immaturity and highlights the need to understand how preterm birth may affect autonomic function.