Determinants of heart rate variability in heart transplanted subjects during physical exercise

A. Radaelli, F. Valle, C. Falcone, A. Calciati, S. Leuzzi, L. Martinelli, C. Goggi, M. Vigano, G. Finardi, L. Bernardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Respiratory sinus arrhythmia has been described in heart transplanted subjects. In order to investigate the mechanisms involved in the generation of this condition in the transplanted heart and its evolution after surgery, graded exercise was performed (0-75 W in 25 W steps) on a cycle ergometer by 41 subjects (mean age 44 years) who had undergone heart transplantation 28 months (range 3-60) earlier and by six age matched-control subjects. R-R interval, respiratory signal, O2 consumption (VO2) and CO2 production (VCO2) were measured. Respiratory sinus arrhythmia was assessed by the autoregressive power spectrum of the R-R interval and respiration. All subjects reached the anaerobic threshold (heart transplants: 60% at 50 W, 40% at 75 W Controls: 150 W). In control subjects, the respiratory sinus arrhythmia was higher than in heart transplanted subjects (58.0 ± 0.30 vs 1.45 ± 0.16 ln ms2) and it decreased significantly (4.66 ± 0.30 ln ms2, P <0.05) during exercise, despite the increase in breathing rate and depth. When the group of heart transplanted subjects was considered as a whole, respiratory sinus arrhythmia was found to be present in all conditions. It significantly increased at 25 W (from 1.45 ± 0.16 to 2.00 ± 0.17 ln ms2, P <0.01), then significantly fell below baseline during recovery (to 0.97 ± 0.23 ln ms2, P <0.01). Multiple regression analysis showed that a linear combination of heart rate (inverse correlation) and VO2 (direct correlation) together with months having passed since transplantation surgery, could explain the observed changes in heart rate during exercise (multiple regression: r = 0.658, P <0.0001). In five long-term transplanted subjects, non respiratory-related low frequency (0.1 Hz) waves were present on the R-R spectrum, but respiratory sinus arrhythmia is also present in the recently transplanted heart and depends on the opposing effects of ventilation and heart rate. In a few cases, sympathetic modulation (re-innervation) could not be excluded.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)462-471
Number of pages10
JournalEuropean Heart Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Heart rate variability
  • Heart transplantation
  • Power spectrum analysis
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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