1. To investigate the link between post-prandial thermogenesis and sympathetic nervous activation we have studied the effects of a single large meal on regional sympathetic nervous activity in healthy, lean subjects.
2. In nine male subjects, noradrenaline spillover was measured from the heart, kidney and liver using isotope dilution, both while fasting and after consumption of a high-energy liquid meal of composition 53% carbohydrate, 32% fat and 15% protein (energy value 2.64–3.51 MJ). Regional oxygen consumption, whole-body oxygen consumption and, in a subset of subjects, muscle sympathetic nerve firing (microneurography) were also measured.
3. Both whole-body oxygen consumption (P < 0.03) and total body spillover of noradrenaline (P < 0.01) rose after the meal, with peak increases of 24% and 56% respectively. Spillover of noradrenaline from the heart was unchanged, that from the hepatosplanchnic circulation increased marginally (0.377 nmol/min to 0.480 nmol/min, P = 0.09), while renal noradrenaline spillover more than doubled (0.440 nmol/min to 0.937 nmol/min, P < 0.05). Skeletal muscle sympathetic nerve activity (peroneal nerve) increased from 7.7 bursts/min at rest to peak at 17.9 bursts/min 60 min after the meal in the three subjects in whom stable recordings were obtained.
4. The meal increased oxygen consumption in the kidneys and liver significantly, from 11.5 ± 1.6 ml/min to 14.5 ± 1.1 ml/min and from 46 ± 7 ml/min to 57 ± 6 ml/min respectively (P < 0.05), but not in the heart.
5. Consumption of a large meal produces a substantial and relatively selective increase in sympathetic outflow to the kidneys and skeletal muscle. While resting regional oxygen consumptions and noradrenaline spillovers were related, the changes that occurred in each were unrelated, so that no direct relationship could be demonstrated between post-prandial thermogenesis and sympathetic activity.