Journal of Hypertension:
A lesson from polycystic ovarian syndrome: untangling the role of renal sympathetic nervous system on hypertension and insulin resistance
Lembo, Giuseppea,b; Grassi, Guidoc
aDepartment of Molecular Medicine, ‘Sapienza’ University of Rome, Rome, Italy
bDepartment of Angiocardioneurology, IRCCS Neuromed, Pozzilli (IS), Italy
cClinica Medica, Ospedale San Gerardo dei Tintori (Monza), Università Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
Correspondence to Giuseppe Lembo, MD, PhD, Department of Molecular Medicine, ‘Sapienza’ University of Rome, c/o IRCCS Neuromed, 86077 Pozzilli (IS), Italy Tel: +39 0865 915244; fax: +39 0865 927575; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is responsible for several homeostatic mechanisms in living organisms and it is known to be the main interpreter of the fight or flight response accompanying stress [1,2]. Almost all tissues are innervated by fibers from the SNS, regulating functions like rate and force of contraction of the heart, vascular and bronchioles tone, urinary output, pupil diameter, gut motility, and so on. All these sympathetic influences are recruited by the release of noradrenaline into the synaptic cleft at tissue level. It is well clear that adrenergic drive is subtly patterned for each organ and depends not only on the amount of local nerve firing but also on the selective presence of several tissue adrenergic receptors able to transduce the nervous influences into cellular functions.
Several diseases have been associated with abnormalities of SNS activity and, consequently, many pharmacological interventions have been developed to target it [3–5]. So far, the main approach to modulate adrenergic overdrive has been the use of drugs managing adrenergic receptor response. Although this strategy allows the investigator to finely tune the sympathetic influences on selective cellular effects, in medical practice the systemic administration fails to restrict the drug action to the organ targeted by the abnormal SNS activity, and the effects are spread out to the whole body. Similarly, therapeutic strategies targeting central autonomic control reduce whole body adrenergic activity but recruit several undesired collateral effects.
Renal denervation and polycystic ovary syndrome
In this issue of the Journal Schlaich et al.  report a novel approach to selectively target local SNS overactivity, inducing several beneficial effects. In particular, the authors report the cases of two obese hypertensive women with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition that has been recently associated with an overactivity of the SNS. Interestingly, the two main traits that accompany polycystic ovary syndrome, namely obesity and hypertension, are typically characterized by increased firing of renal sympathetic nerves [7,8]. Thus, the authors attempted to selectively target renal sympathetic nerves, ablating them with radiofrequency, by using a catheter-based approach. Although their findings are limited to just two observations, they confirm that this novel therapeutic strategy reduced two direct indexes of sympathetic neural activity: whole body noradrenaline spillover and efferent postganglionic muscle sympathetic nerve traffic . In addition the renal denervation procedure markedly lowered heart rate values, a finding which supports the view that this indirect adrenergic marker may mirror in a number of circumstances the response of direct indices of sympathetic function . Interestingly, the targeted ablation of renal sympathetic neural drive improves blood pressure control, insulin sensitivity, ovarian function and glomerular hyperfiltration. The impact of whole body SNS inhibition on blood pressure and insulin sensitivity has been greatly documented, both in experimental models and humans [11,12]. However, these case reports emphasize that the same beneficial effects of the adrenergic inhibition can be achieved by a targeted approach to regional adrenergic activity. Renal sympathetic activity has a crucial role in blood pressure homeostasis and the beneficial effects on blood pressure control can be easily expected. On the contrary, the concomitant reduction in muscle sympathetic nerve traffic, obtained by intervention on renal sympathetic nerves, may indicate that central sympathetic inhibition has also taken place.
Insulin/sympathetic interactions and hormonal balance
Whichever the case, the observations of Schlaich et al. strongly support previous data reporting that muscle sympathetic nerve traffic is one of the main determinants of insulin resistance . This latter is known to be dependent on two muscle components: a hemodynamic one (glucose uptake being proportional to blood flow), and direct noradrenaline negative cellular effects. Thus, the observed improvement in insulin sensitivity can be attributed to reduced sympathetic nerve traffic, which is known to increase muscle blood flow and to reduce noradrenaline release. Nevertheless, we cannot exclude a further positive contribution to insulin sensitivity due to a possible amelioration of ovarian function. Indeed, the authors report that renal sympathetic nerves ablation could partially restore regular menses, thus strongly supporting a causal role of SNS overactivity in polycystic ovary syndrome. This interpretation is also supported by experimental data showing that ablation of ovarian sympathetic nerves re-establishes a normal response of steroid hormones for ovulation and cycles initiation.
Overall, these observations suggest that the renal SNS acts upstream to ovarian sympathetic control. Thus, a strategy to approach the renal sympathetic fibers in a complex and multifaceted syndrome such as the polycystic ovary syndrome, may obtain beneficial effects at many levels, targeting at the same time hypertension, insulin resistance and endocrine abnormalities. Further studies on a larger number of cases are mandatory before definitively recommending radiofrequency-based ablation of renal sympathetic fibers as a novel therapeutic strategy to be applied not only to uncontrolled hypertension [9,13], but also to the polycystic ovary syndrome.
Sources of funding: This work was supported by Italian Ministry of Health ‘Ricerca Corrente’ and ‘Cinque per mille’ to G.L.
1 Malpas SC. Sympathetic nervous system overactivity and its role in the development of cardiovascular disease. Physiol Rev 2010; 90:513–557.
2 Adams DBP, Baccelli G, Mancia G, Zanchetti A. Cardiovascular changes during naturally elicited fighting behavior in the cat. Am J Physiol 1969; 216:1226–1235.
3 Grassi G. Sympathetic neural activity in hypertension and related diseases. Am J Hypertens 2010; 23:1052–1060.
4 Esler M, Rumantir M, Wiesner G, Kaye D, Hastings J, Lambert G. Sympathetic nervous system and insulin resistance: from obesity to diabetes. Am J Hypertens 2001; 14:304S–309S.
5 Lembo G, Napoli R, Capaldo B, Rendina V, Iaccarino G, Volpe M, et al
. Abnormal sympathetic overactivity evoked by insulin in the skeletal muscle of patients with essential hypertension. J Clin Invest 1992; 90:24–29.
6 Schlaich MP, Straznicky N, Grima M, Ika-Sari C, Dawood T, Mahfoud F, et al
. Renal denervation: a potential new treatment modality for polycystic ovary syndrome? J Hypertens
7 Lara HE, Ferruz JL, Luza S, Bustamante DA, Borges Y, Ojeda SR. Activation of ovarian sympathetic nerves in polycystic ovary syndrome. Endocrinology 1993; 133:2690–2695.
8 Sverrisdóttir YB, Mogren T, Kataoka J, Janson PO, Stener-Victorin E. Is polycystic ovary syndrome associated with high sympathetic nerve activity and size at birth? Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2008; 294:E576–E581.
9 Schlaich MP, Sobotka PA, Krum H, Lambert E, Esler MD. Renal sympathetic nerve ablation for uncontrolled hypertension. N Engl J Med 2009; 361:932–934.
10 Grassi G, Vailati S, Bertinieri G, Seravalle G, Stella ML, Dell'Oro R, Mancia G. Heart rate as marker of sympathetic activity. J Hypertens 1998; 16:1635–1639.
11 Jamerson KA, Julius S, Gudbrandsson T, Andersson O, Brant DO. Reflex sympathetic activation induces acute insulin resistance in the human forearm. Hypertension 1993; 21:618–623.
12 Lembo G, Capaldo B, Rendina V, Iaccarino G, Napoli R, Guida R, et al
. Acute noradrenergic activation induces insulin resistance in human skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol 1994; 266:E242–E247.
13 Esler MD, Krum H, Sobotka PA, Schlaich MP, Schmieder RE, Böhm M, Symplicity HTN-2 Investigators. Renal sympathetic denervation in patients with treatment-resistant hypertension (The Symplicity HTN-2 Trial): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2010; 376:1903–1909.
© 2011 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
What does "Remember me" mean?
By checking this box, you'll stay logged in until you logout. You'll get easier access to your articles, collections,
media, and all your other content, even if you close your browser or shut down your
To protect your most sensitive data and activities (like changing your password),
we'll ask you to re-enter your password when you access these services.
What if I'm on a computer that I share with others?
If you're using a public computer or you share this computer with others, we recommend
that you uncheck the "Remember me" box.
Data is temporarily unavailable. Please try again soon.
Readers Of this Article Also Read