Copyright © 2019 the American Physiological Society We sought to examine the effect of varying chemoreflex stress on sympathetic neural recruitment strategies during end-expiratory apnea. We hypothesized that increases in the firing frequency and probability of low-threshold axons at the asphyxic “break point” would be exaggerated during hypoxia and attenuated during hyperoxia. Multiunit muscle sympathetic nervous system activity (MSNA) (peroneal nerve microneurography) was measured in 10 healthy male subjects (31 ± 2 yr, 25 ± 1 kg/m2). Individuals completed maximal voluntary end-expiratory apnea under normoxic, hypoxic (inspired O2 fraction: 0.17 ± 0.01), and hyperoxic (inspired O2 fraction: 0.92 ± 0.03) conditions. Action potential (AP) patterns were examined from the filtered raw signal with wavelet-based methodology. Multiunit MSNA was increased (P ≤ 0.05) during normoxic apnea, because of an increase in the frequency and incidence of AP spikes (243 ± 75 to 519 ± 134 APs/min, P = 0.048; 412 ± 133 to 733 ± 185 APs/100 heartbeats, P = 0.02). Multiunit MSNA increased from baseline (P < 0.01) during hypoxic apnea, which was due to an increase in the frequency and incidence of APs (192 ± 59 to 952 ± 266 APs/min, P < 0.01; 326 ± 89 to 1,212 ± 327 APs/100 heartbeats, P < 0.01). Hypoxic apnea also resulted in an increase in the probability of a particular AP cluster firing more than once per burst (P < 0.01). Hyperoxia attenuated any increase in MSNA with apnea, such that no changes in multiunit MSNA or frequency or incidence of AP spikes were observed (P > 0.05). We conclude that increases in frequency and incidence of APs during apnea are potentiated during hypoxia and suppressed when individuals are hyperoxic, highlighting the important impact of chemoreflex stress in AP discharge patterns. The results may have implications for neural control of the circulation in recreational activities and/or clinical conditions prone to apnea. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Our results demonstrate that, compared with normoxic end-expiratory apnea, hypoxic apnea increases the frequency and incidence of action potential spikes as well as the probability of multiple firing. We further show that this response is suppressed when individuals are hyperoxic. These data highlight the potentially important role of chemoreflex stress in neural firing and recruitment and may have implications for neural control of the circulation in recreational and/or clinical conditions prone to apnea.
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