Translation of salt retention to central activation of the sympathetic nervous system in hypertension

Virginia L. Brooks, Joseph R. Haywood, Alan Kim Johnson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Scopus citations


Increased dietary salt increases blood pressure in many hypertensive individuals, producing salt-sensitive hypertension (SSH). The cause is unknown, but a major component appears to be activation of the sympathetic nervous system. The purpose of this short review is to present one hypothesis to explain how increased dietary salt increases sympathetic activity in SSH. It is proposed that increased salt intake causes salt retention and raises plasma sodium chloride (NaCl) concentrations, which activate sodiutn/osmoreceptors to trigger sympathoexcitation. Moreover, we suggest that small and often undetectable increases in osmolality can drive significant sympathoexcitation, because the gain of the relationship between osmolality and increased sympathetic activity is enhanced. Multiple factors may contribute to this facilitation, including inappropriately elevated levels of angiotensin II or aldosterone, changes in gene expression or synaptic plasticity and increased sodium concentrations in cerebrospinal fluid. Future studies are required to delineate the brain sites and mechanisms of action and interaction of osmolality and these amplification factors to elicit sustained sympathoexcitation in SSH.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-432
Number of pages7
JournalClinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology
Issue number5-6
StatePublished - May 2005


  • Aldosterone
  • Angiotensin II
  • Brain
  • Osmolality
  • Salt-sensitive hypertension
  • Sympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Pharmacology
  • Physiology (medical)


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