Autonomic Control of the Heart and Its Clinical Impact. A Personal Perspective

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This essay covers several aspects of the autonomic control of the heart, all relevant to cardiovascular pathophysiology with a direct impact on clinical outcomes. Ischemic heart disease, heart failure, channelopathies, and life-threatening arrhythmias are in the picture. Beginning with an overview on some of the events that marked the oscillations in the medical interest for the autonomic nervous system, our text explores specific areas, including experimental and clinical work focused on understanding the different roles of tonic and reflex sympathetic and vagal activity. The role of the baroreceptors, not just for the direct control of circulation but also because of the clinical value of interpreting alterations (spontaneous or induced) in their function, is discussed. The importance of the autonomic nervous system for gaining insights on risk stratification and for providing specific antiarrhythmic protection is also considered. Examples are the interventions to decrease sympathetic activity and/or to increase vagal activity. The non-invasive analysis of the RR and QT intervals provides additional information. The three of us have collaborated in several studies and each of us contributes with very specific and independent areas of expertise. Here, we have focused on those areas to which we have directly contributed and hence speak with personal experience. This is not an attempt to provide a neutral and general overview on the autonomic nervous system; rather, it represents our effort to share and provide the readers with our own personal views matured after many years of research in this field.

Original languageEnglish
Article number582
JournalFrontiers in Physiology
Publication statusPublished - Jun 12 2020


  • autonomic nervous system
  • baroreflex sensitivity
  • heart rate variability
  • long QT syndrome
  • QT interval
  • sudden death
  • sympathetic nervous system
  • vagal activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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