A progressive decline in baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) is a characteristic feature of human aging, the basis of which is poorly understood. The purpose of the present study was to determine whether alterations in efferent baroreflex function might contribute to the age-related decrease in BRS. We studied 10 healthy young (mean age 30.5 years; age range 22–40 years; six male) and 10 healthy elderly (mean age 70.7 years; age range 67–75 years; five male) volunteers. We tested efferent cardiac vagal function using the bradycardiac response to the cold face test, and efferent sympathetic function using heart rate and blood pressure responses to four stress tests: (i) low-level cognitive stress, (ii) high-level cognitive stress, (iii) hand immersion in ice water (cold pressor test) and (iv) isometric sustained hand-grip. Haemodynamic responses to these stresses are mediated via efferent baroreflex pathways, whereas the afferent components of each reflex response are independent of afferent baroreflex pathways. BRS was measured from simultaneous Finapres-derived continuous blood pressure and digital ECG R–R interval data using the sequence analysis paradigm. As expected, BRS was significantly reduced in the elderly group (7.29±0.74 ms/mmHg; mean±S.E.M.) compared with the young group (13.84±1.13 ms/mmHg; P < 0.001). However, neither the bradycardiac responses to the cold face test nor the efferent sympathetically mediated heart rate/blood pressure responses to the stress test battery were significantly different between the young and elderly groups. We conclude that the age-related decrease in BRS is not attributable to impairments in the efferent sympathetic or parasympathetic system components of the baroreceptor reflex pathway.

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