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Abnormalities in autonomic function in obese boys at-risk for insulin resistance and obstructive sleep apnea


Study objectives

Current evidence in adults suggests that, independent of obesity, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) can lead to autonomic dysfunction and impaired glucose metabolism, but these relationships are less clear in children. The purpose of this study was to investigate the associations among OSA, glucose metabolism, and daytime autonomic function in obese pediatric subjects.


Twenty-three obese boys participated in: overnight polysomnography; a frequently sampled intravenous glucose tolerance test; and recordings of spontaneous cardiorespiratory data in both the supine (baseline) and standing (sympathetic stimulus) postures.


Baseline systolic blood pressure and reactivity of low-frequency heart rate variability to postural stress correlated with insulin resistance, increased fasting glucose, and reduced beta-cell function, but not OSA severity. Baroreflex sensitivity reactivity was reduced with sleep fragmentation, but only for subjects with low insulin sensitivity and/or low first-phase insulin response to glucose.


These findings suggest that vascular sympathetic activity impairment is more strongly affected by metabolic dysfunction than by OSA severity, while blunted vagal autonomic function associated with sleep fragmentation in OSA is enhanced when metabolic dysfunction is also present.

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