Model-free causality analysis of cardiovascular variability detects the amelioration of autonomic control in Parkinson's disease patients undergoing mechanical stimulation

Tito Bassani, Vlasta Bari, Andrea Marchi, Stefano Tassin, Laura Dalla Vecchia, Margherita Canesi, Franca Barbic, Raffaello Furlan, Alberto Porta

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


We tested the hypothesis that causality analysis, applied to the spontaneous beat-to-beat variability of heart period (HP) and systolic arterial pressure (SAP), can identify the improvement of autonomic control linked to plantar mechanical stimulation in patients with Parkinson's disease (PD). A causality index, measuring the strength of the association from SAP to HP variability, and derived according to the Granger paradigm (i.e. SAP causes HP if the inclusion of SAP into the set of signals utilized to describe cardiovascular interactions improves the prediction of HP series), was calculated using both linear model-based (MB) and nonlinear model-free (MF) approaches. Univariate HP and SAP variability indices in time and frequency domains, and bivariate descriptors of the HP-SAP variability interactions were computed as well. We studied ten PD patients (age range: 57-78years; Hoehn-Yahr scale: 2-3; six males, four females) without orthostatic hypotension or symptoms of orthostatic intolerance and 'on-time' according to their habitual pharmacological treatment. PD patients underwent recordings at rest in a supine position and during a head-up tilt before, and 24h after, mechanical stimulation was applied to the plantar surface of both feet. The MF causality analysis indicated a greater involvement of baroreflex in regulating HP-SAP variability interactions after mechanical stimulation. Remarkably, MB causality and more traditional univariate or bivariate techniques could not detect changes in cardiovascular regulation after mechanical stimulation, thus stressing the importance of accounting for nonlinear dynamics in PD patients. Due to the higher statistical power of MF causality we suggest its exploitation to monitor the baroreflex control improvement in PD patients, and we encourage the clinical application of the Granger causality approach to evaluate the modification of the autonomic control in relation to the application of a pharmacological treatment, a rehabilitation procedure or external intervention.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1397-1408
Number of pages12
JournalPhysiological Measurement
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 2014



  • autonomic nervous system
  • baroreflex sensitivity
  • cardiovascular control
  • Granger causality
  • headup tilt
  • heart rate variability
  • Parkinson disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)

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