Autonomic Control During Pregnancy

Virginia L. Brooks, Belinda H. McCully, Priscila A. Cassaglia

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


This chapter discusses how pregnancy activates the sympathetic nervous system and pregnancy impairs the baroreceptor reflex. In parallel to increases in fluid-retaining hormones, alterations in the autonomic nervous system accompany normal pregnancy. While pregnancy induces sympathoexcitation, simultaneously, basal parasympathetic tone decreases. Baroreflex dysfunction has been documented in several species besides humans, including rabbits, rats, goats, sheep, and dogs. While pregnancy could depress the function of any or all anatomical links within the baroreflex pathway, current evidence indicates that brain control is particularly impaired. Insulin resistance is a normal adaption of pregnancy that, by increasing circulating glucose levels, serves to enhance glucose availability into the fetus. Preeclampsia is a potentially fatal hypertensive disorder of pregnancy that is initiated by reduced placental perfusion. Increased sympathetic tone may contribute to the hypertension, since basal muscle sympathetic nerve activity is clearly increased above the levels observed in normal pregnant women. The changes in basal autonomic tone may counteract to some degree the profound vasodilation that is a hallmark of normal pregnancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationPrimer on the Autonomic Nervous System
PublisherElsevier Inc.
Number of pages4
ISBN (Print)9780123865250
StatePublished - 2012


  • 3α-hydroxy-dihydroprogesterone
  • Arcuate nucleus
  • Baroreceptor reflex
  • Heart rate
  • Insulin
  • Parasympathetic nerve activity
  • Pregnancy
  • Rostral ventrolateral medulla
  • Sympathetic nerve activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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