Heart rate variability and apnea during sleep in Down's syndrome

Raffaele Ferri, Lilia Curzi-Dascalova, Stefano Del Gracco, Maurizio Elia, Sebastiano A. Musumeci, Salvatore Pettinato

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Autonomic system dysfunction has been reported to occur frequently in patients with Down's syndrome (DS) and is constituted mainly by an imbalance between the sympathetic and vagal systems. The analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) during sleep is a quantitative reliable method for studying such a mechanism, but it has not yet been extensively and adequately applied in DS. In this study, HRV during sleep was evaluated in seven DS patients and in six normal controls, by also controlling for the presence of sleep apnea or arousal. The main results were an increased sympathetic function (low-frequency component of HRV) and a decreased vagal activity (high-frequency component of HRV) in DS with respect to normal controls, during apnea-free periods. Moreover, the presence of apnea, in DS, induced a further significant increase in low-frequency and very low-frequency components of HRV during sleep Stage 2. This study provides additional evidence of a brainstem dysfunctioning in DS, responsible for the abnormal imbalance between the sympathetic and vagal systems and confirms the brainstem involvement already suggested in the literature in order to explain brainstem-auditory evoked potential abnormalities and central sleep apnea in these patients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)282-287
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Sleep Research
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1998


  • Autonomic function
  • Brainstem
  • Central sleep apnea
  • Down's syndrome
  • Heart rate variability
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Spectral analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Neuroscience(all)


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