Do increases in markers of vagal activity imply protection from sudden death? The case of scopolamine

S. S. Hull, E. Vanoli, P. B. Adamson, G. M. De Ferrari, R. D. Foreman, P. J. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Low-dose scopolamine increases heart rate variability (HRV) in patients with prior myocardial infarction (MI). This observation combined with the evidence that elevated cardiac vagal activity during acute myocardial ischemia is antifibrillatory, has generated the hypothesis that scopolamine might be protective after MI. We tested low-dose scopolamine in a clinically relevant experimental preparation for sudden death in which other vagomimetic interventions are effective. Methods and Results: Nineteen mongrel dogs that survived an anterior MI were used in the study. Occurrence or lack of ventricular fibrillation (VF) due to acute myocardial ischemia during submaximal exercise identified at high and low risk for sudden death. Dose-response curves performed in 12 dogs at high (n=6) and low (n=6) risk showed that scopolamine at 3 μg/kg exerts the greatest effect on HRV. A second group of 7 high-risk dogs were exposed to an exercise-and-ischemia test after treatment with scopolamine (3 μg/kg IV). Scopolamine increased the standard deviation of RR intervals by 41%, increased the high-frequency hand of spectral analysis by 48%, and decreased resting heart rate by 14%. Despite the increase in markers of vagal activity, VF recurred during the exercise-and-ischemia test in 6 dogs (86%). Conclusions: The significant increase in HRV induced by acute scopolamine did not result in a decreased risk for VF due to acute myocardial ischemia in association with sympathetic activation. Caution must be applied when extrapointing the potential antifibrillatory activity of an intervention from its influence on autonomic markers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2516-2519
Number of pages4
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 1995


  • death, sudden
  • ischemia
  • myocardial infarction
  • scopolamine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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