Muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) increases during isometric exercise via increased firing of low-threshold action potentials (AP), recruitment of larger, higher-threshold APs, and synaptic delay modifications. Recent work found that women with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) demonstrate exaggerated early-onset MSNA responses to exercise; however, it is unclear how PTSD affects AP recruitment patterns during fatiguing exercise. We hypothesized that women with PTSD (n = 11, 43  [SD] years) would exhibit exaggerated sympathetic neural recruitment compared to women without PTSD (controls; n = 13, 40  years). MSNA and AP discharge patterns (via microneurography and a continuous wavelet transform) were measured during 1 min of baseline, isometric handgrip exercise (IHG) to fatigue, 2 min of post-exercise circulatory occlusion (PECO), and 3 min of recovery. Women with PTSD were unable to increase AP content per burst compared to controls throughout IHG and PECO (main effect of group: P = 0.026). Furthermore, relative to controls, women with PTSD recruited fewer AP clusters per burst during the first (controls: ∆1.3 [1.2] vs. PTSD: ∆−0.2 [0.8]; P = 0.016) and second minute (controls: ∆1.2 [1.1] vs. PTSD: ∆−0.1 [0.8]; P = 0.022) of PECO, and fewer subpopulations of larger, previously silent axons during the first (controls: ∆5  vs. PTSD: ∆1 ; P = 0.020) and second minute (controls: ∆4  vs. PTSD: ∆1 ; P = 0.021) of PECO. Conversely, PTSD did not modify the AP cluster size–latency relationship during baseline, the end of IHG, or PECO (all P = 0.658–0.745). Collectively, these data indicate that women with PTSD demonstrate inherent impairments in the fundamental neural coding patterns elicited by the sympathetic nervous system during IHG and exercise pressor reflex activation.
- Action potentials
- Muscle sympathetic nerve activity
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Clinical Neurology