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Journal of Diabetes Research
Volume 2015, Article ID 341583, 11 pages
Review Article

Relevance of Sympathetic Nervous System Activation in Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

1Neurovascular Hypertension and Kidney Disease Laboratory, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia
2School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia
3Department of Cardiovascular Medicine, Alfred Hospital, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia
4Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Melbourne, VIC 3800, Australia
5School of Medicine and Pharmacology, Royal Perth Hospital Unit, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences, The University of Western Australia, Level 3, MRF Building, Rear 50 Murray Street, Perth, WA 6000, Australia

Received 15 December 2014; Accepted 30 March 2015

Academic Editor: Janet H. Southerland

Copyright © 2015 Alicia A. Thorp and Markus P. Schlaich. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Sympathetic tone is well recognised as being implicit in cardiovascular control. It is less readily acknowledged that activation of the sympathetic nervous system is integral in energy homeostasis and can exert profound metabolic effects. Accumulating data from animal and human studies suggest that central sympathetic overactivity plays a pivotal role in the aetiology and complications of several metabolic conditions that can cluster to form the Metabolic Syndrome (MetS). Given the known augmented risk for type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and premature mortality associated with the MetS understanding the complex pathways underlying the metabolic derangements involved has become a priority. Many factors have been proposed to contribute to increased sympathetic nerve activity in metabolic abnormalities including obesity, impaired baroreflex sensitivity, hyperinsulinemia, and elevated adipokine levels. Furthermore there is mounting evidence to suggest that chronic sympathetic overactivity can potentiate two of the key metabolic alterations of the MetS, central obesity and insulin resistance. This review will discuss the regulatory role of the sympathetic nervous system in metabolic control and the proposed pathophysiology linking sympathetic overactivity to metabolic abnormalities. Pharmacological and device-based approaches that target central sympathetic drive will also be discussed as possible therapeutic options to improve metabolic control in at-risk patient cohorts.