Pregnancy and the endocrine regulation of the baroreceptor reflex

Virginia L. Brooks, Roger A.L. Dampney, Cheryl M. Heesch

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


The purpose of this review is to delineate the general features of endocrine regulation of the baroreceptor reflex, as well as specific contributions during pregnancy. In contrast to the programmed changes in baroreflex function that occur in situations initiated by central command (e.g., exercise or stress), the complex endocrine milieu often associated with physiological and pathophysiological states can influence the central baroreflex neuronal circuitry via multiple sites and mechanisms, thereby producing varied changes in baroreflex function. During pregnancy, baroreflex gain is markedly attenuated, and at least two hormonal mechanisms contribute, each at different brain sites: increased levels of the neurosteroid 3α- hydroxydihydroprogesterone (3α-OH-DHP), acting in the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM), and reduced actions of insulin in the forebrain. 3α-OH-DHP appears to potentiate baroreflex-independent GABAergic inhibition of premotor neurons in the RVLM, which decreases the range of sympathetic nerve activity that can be elicited by changes in arterial pressure. In contrast, reductions in the levels or actions of insulin in the brain blunt baroreflex efferent responses to increments or decrements in arterial pressure. Although plasma levels of angiotensin II are increased in pregnancy, this is not responsible for the reduction in baroreflex gain, although it may contribute to the increased level of sympathetic nerve activity in this condition. How these different hormonal effects are integrated within the brain, as well as possible interactions with additional potential neuromodulators that influence baroreflex function during pregnancy and other physiological and pathophysiological states, remains to be clearly delineated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R439-R451
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 2010


  • 3α-hydroxy-dihydroprogesterone
  • Angiotensin II
  • Insulin
  • Paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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