Assessment of the neural control of the circulation during psychological stress

Massimo Pagani, Ornella Rimoldi, Paolo Pizzinelli, Raffaello Furlan, Wilma Crivellaro, Diego Liberati, Sergio Cerutti, Alberto Malliani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study, we used spectral analysis of short-term R-R and systolic arterial pressure (SAP) variabilities to estimate the changes in neural control of the circulation produced by psychological stress. The 0.1 Hz low-frequency (LF) component of R-R and SAP variabilities provided a quantitative index of the sympathetic activity controlling heart rate and vasomotion. Conversely the high-frequency (HF) respiratory component of R-R variability provided an index of vagal tone. In conscious dogs we used the seemingly stressful situation of being accompanied for the first time to the experimental laboratory as a stimulus. In human subjects we used mental arithmetic. In both cases LF of R-R and SAP variabilities increased significantly suggesting enhanced sympathetic activity both to the SA node and the vasculature. In man, the index α, a measure of the overall gain of baroreceptor mechanisms, was found to be reduced during mental arithmetic. Spectral analysis of cardiovascular variabilities thus suggests that in man and in conscious dogs psychological challenges induce a profound re-arrangement of neural control of the circulation, which appears to be characterised by sympathetic predominance and which can be monitored by this technique.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)33-41
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of the Autonomic Nervous System
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1991


  • Cardiovascular variability
  • Computer analysis
  • Sympathetic activity
  • Vagal activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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