Peripheral vascular response to inspiratory breath hold in paediatric homozygous sickle cell disease

Veline S. L'Esperance, Sharon E. Cox, David Simpson, Carolyn Gill, Julie Makani, Deogratias Soka, Josephine Mgaya, Fenella J. Kirkham*, Geraldine F. Clough

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (Scopus)


New Findings: • What is the central question of this study? Autonomic nervous dysfunction is implicated in complications of sickle cell anaemia (SCA). In healthy adults, a deep inspiratory breath hold (IBH) elicits rapid transient SNS- mediated vasoconstriction detectable using Laser Doppler Flux (LDF) assessment of the finger-tip cutaneous micovasculature. • What is the main finding and its importance? We demonstrate significantly increased resting peripheral blood flow and sympathetic activity in African children with SCA compared to sibling controls and increased sympathetic stimulation in response to vasoprovocation with DIG. This study is the first to observe an inverse association between resting peripheral blood flow and haemoglobin oxygen saturation (SpO2). These phenomena may be an adaptive response to the hypoxic exposure in SCA. There is increasing evidence that autonomic dysfunction in adults with homozygous sickle cell (haemoglobin SS) disease is associated with enhanced autonomic nervous system-mediated control of microvascular perfusion. However, it is unclear whether such differences are detectable in children with SS disease. We studied 65 children with SS disease [38 boys; median age 7.2 (interquartile range 5.1-10.6) years] and 20 control children without symptoms of SS disease [8 boys; 8.7 (5.5-10.8) years] and recorded mean arterial blood pressure (ABP) and daytime haemoglobin oxygen saturation. Cutaneous blood flux at rest (RBF) and during the sympathetically activated vasoconstrictor response to inspiratory breath hold (IBH) were measured in the finger pulp of the non-dominant hand using laser Doppler fluximetry. Local factors mediating flow motion were assessed by power spectral density analysis of the oscillatory components of the laser Doppler signal. The RBF measured across the two study groups was negatively associated with age (r=-0.25, P < 0.0001), ABP (r=-0.27, P= 0.02) and daytime (r=-0.30, P= 0.005). Children with SS disease had a higher RBF (P= 0.005) and enhanced vasoconstrictor response to IBH (P= 0.002) compared with control children. In children with SS disease, higher RBF was associated with an increase in the sympathetic interval (r=-0.28, P= 0.022). The SS disease status, daytime and age explained 22% of the variance in vasoconstrictor response to IBH (P < 0.0001). Our findings suggest that blood flow and blood flow responses in the skin of young African children with SS disease differ from those of healthy control children, with increased resting peripheral blood flow and increased sympathetic stimulation from a young age in SS disease. They further suggest that the laser Doppler flowmetry technique with inspiratory breath hold manoeuvre appears to be robust for use in young children with SS disease, to explore interactions between, ABP and autonomic function with clinical complications, e.g. skin ulceration.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)49-56
Number of pages8
JournalExperimental Physiology
Issue number1
Early online date31 May 2012
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2013


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