Reflex Mechanisms for Maintaining Normal Arterial Pressure

Aside from the exercise and stress functions of the autonomic nervous system to increase arterial pressure, there are multiple subconscious special nervous control mechanisms that operate all the time to maintain the arterial pressure at or near normal. Almost all of these are negative feedback reflex mechanisms, which we explain in the following sections.

The Baroreceptor Arterial Pressure Control System—Baroreceptor Reflexes

By far the best known of the nervous mechanisms for arterial pressure control is the baroreceptor reflex. Basically, this reflex is initiated by stretch receptors, called either baroreceptors or pressoreceptors, located at specific points in the walls of several large systemic arteries. A rise in arterial pressure stretches the baroreceptors and causes them to transmit signals into the central nervous system. "Feedback" signals are then sent back through the autonomic nervous system to the circulation to reduce arterial pressure downward toward the normal level.

Physiologic Anatomy of the Baroreceptors and Their Innervation. Baroreceptors are spray-type nerve endings that lie in the walls of the arteries; they are stimulated when stretched. A few baroreceptors are located in the wall of almost every large artery of the thoracic and neck regions; but, as shown in Figure 18-5, baroreceptors are extremely abundant in (1) the wall of each internal carotid artery slightly above the carotid bifurcation, an area known as the carotid sinus, and (2) the wall of the aortic arch.

Figure 18-5 shows that signals from the "carotid baroreceptors" are transmitted through very small Hering's nerves to the glossopharyngeal nerves in the high neck, and then to the tractus solitarius in the medullary area of the brain stem. Signals from the "aortic baroreceptors" in the arch of the aorta are transmitted through the vagus nerves also to the same tractus solitarius of the medulla.

Response of the Baroreceptors to Pressure. Figure 18-6 shows the effect of different arterial pressure levels on the rate of impulse transmission in a Hering's carotid sinus nerve. Note that the carotid sinus baroreceptors are not stimulated at all by pressures between 0 and 50 to 60 mm Hg, but above these levels, they respond progressively more rapidly and reach a maximum at about 180 mm Hg. The responses of the aortic barore-ceptors are similar to those of the carotid receptors except that they operate, in general, at pressure levels about 30 mm Hg higher.

Note especially that in the normal operating range of arterial pressure, around 100 mm Hg, even a slight change in pressure causes a strong change in the baroreflex signal to readjust arterial pressure back toward normal. Thus, the baroreceptor feedback mechanism functions most effectively in the pressure range where it is most needed.

Figure 18-5

The baroreceptor system for controlling arterial pressure.

Figure 18-5

The baroreceptor system for controlling arterial pressure.

SG 16G 244

Arterial blood pressure (mm Hg)

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Essentials of Human Physiology

Essentials of Human Physiology

This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.

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