Previous reports showed that sympathetic stimulation affects the activity of muscle spindle afferents (MSAs). The aim of the present work is to study the characteristics of sympathetic modulation of MSA response to stretch: (i) on the dynamic and static components of the stretch response, and (ii) on group Ia and II MSAs to evaluate potentially different effects. In anaesthetised rabbits, the peripheral stump of the cervical sympathetic nerve (CSN) was stimulated at 10 impulses s-1 for 45-90 s. The responses of single MSAs to trapezoidal displacement of the mandible were recorded from the mesencephalic trigeminal nucleus. The following characteristic parameters were determined from averaged trapezoidal responses: initial frequency (IF), peak frequency at the end of the ramp (PF) and static index (SI). From these, other parameters were derived: dynamic index (DI = PF - SI), dynamic difference (DD = PF - IF) and static difference (SD = SI - IF). The effects of CSN stimulation were also evaluated during changes in the state of intrafusal muscle fibre contraction induced by succinylcholine and curare. In a population of 124 MSAs, 106 units (85.4 %) were affected by sympathetic stimulation. In general, while changes in resting discharge varied among different units (Ia vs. II) and experimental conditions (curarised vs. non-curarised), ranging from enhancement to strong depression of firing, the amplitude of the response to muscle stretches consistently decreased. This was confirmed and detailed in a quantitative analysis performed on 49 muscle spindle afferents. In both the non-curarised (23 units) and curarised (26 units) condition, stimulation of the CSN reduced the response amplitude in terms of DD and SD, but hardly affected DI. The effects were equally present in both Ia and II units; they were shown to be independent from gamma drive and intrafusal muscle tone and not secondary to muscle hypoxia. Sympathetic action on the resting discharge (IF) was less consistent. In the noncurarised condition, IF decreased in most Ia units, while in II units decreases and increases occurred equally often. In the curarised condition, IF in group II units mostly increased. The results have important functional implications on the control of motor function in a state of 'high' sympathetic activity, like excessive stress, as well as in certain pathological conditions such as sympathetically maintained pain.
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