Methodological refinements in the assessment of human sympathetic cardiovascular drive have allowed throughout the years to better define the role of the sympathetic nervous system in the pathophysiology of hypertension. Earlier studies have provided evidence that indirect markers of adrenergic drive, such as plasma or urinary norepinephrine as well as heart rate, often display an increase in the hypertensive state. Direct recording of efferent postganglionic muscle sympathetic nerve traffic via microneurography and regional norepinephrine spillover technique have conclusively documented the occurrence of an adrenergic overdrive in hypertension, showing that the sympathetic activation is directly related to the severity of the hypertensive state and is widespread to different cardiovascular districts. The present review will focus on some major features of the "neuroadrenergic hypothesis of hypertension." In particular it will examine the mechanisms responsible for the adrenergic overdrive, the relationships between the sympathetic activation and the metabolic disarray of frequent detection in the hypertensive state, and the participation of neuroadrenergic factors at the development of the hypertension-related target organ damage. Further issues addressed will be the contribution of the hyperadrenergic state to the different patterns of the 24-hour blood pressure profile as well as to the day/night blood pressure variability described in the hypertensive state and the behavior of the sympathetic function in the hypertensive states complicated by the presence of other cardiovascular or metabolic disease. Finally, the clinical and therapeutic implications of the neuroadrenergic abnormalities occurring in hypertension, as well as the areas worthy of future research, will be highlighted.
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