Power spectral analysis of heart rate and arterial pressure variabilities as a marker of sympatho-vagal interaction in man and conscious dog

M. Pagani, F. Lombardi, S. Guzzetti, O. Rimoldi, R. Furlan, P. Pizzinelli, G. Sandrone, G. Malfatto, S. Dell'Orto, E. Piccaluga

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 57 normal subjects (age 20-60 years), we analyzed the spontaneous beat-to-beat oscillation in R-R interval during control recumbent position, 90° upright tilt, controlled respiration (n = 16) and acute (n = 10) and chronic (n = 12) β-adrenergic receptor blockade. Automatic computer analysis provided the autoregressive power spectral density, as well as the number and relative power of the individual components. The power spectral density of R-R interval variability contained two major components in power, a high frequency at ~ 0.25 Hz and a low frequency at ~ 0.1 Hz, with a normalized low frequency: high frequency ratio of 3.6 ± 0.7. With tilt, the low-frequency component became largely predominant (90 ± 1%) with a low frequency: high frequency ratio of 21 ± 4. Acute β-adrenergic receptor blockade (0.2 mg/kg IV propranolol) increased variance at rest and markedly blunted the increase in low frequency and low frequency: high frequency ratio induced by tilt. Chronic β-adrenergic receptor blockade (0.6 mg/kg p.o. propranolol, t.i.d.), in addition, reduced low frequency and increased high frequency at rest, while limiting the low frequency: high frequency ratio increase produced by tilt. Controlled respiration produced at rest a marked increase in the high-frequency component, with a reduction of the low-frequency component and of the low frequency: high frequency ratio (0.7 ± 0.1); during tilt, the increase in the low frequency: high frequency ratio (8.3 ± 1.6) was significantly smaller. In seven additional subjects in whom direct high-fidelity arterial pressure was recorded, simultaneous R-R interval and arterial pressure variabilities were examined at rest and during tilt. Also, the power spectral density of arterial pressure variability contained two major components, with a relative low frequency: high frequency ratio at rest of 2.8 ± 0.7, which became 17 ± 5 with tilt. These power spectral density components were numerically similar to those observed in R-R variability. Thus, invasive and noninvasive studies provided similar results. More direct information on the role of cardiac sympathetic nerves on R-R and arterial pressure variabilities was derived from a group of experiments in conscious dogs before and after bilateral stellectomy. Under control conditions, high frequency was predominant and low frequency was very small or absent, owing to a predominant vagal tone. During a 9% decrease in arterial pressure obtained with IV nitroglycerin, there was a marked increase in low frequency, as a result of reflex sympathetic activation. Bilateral stellectomy prevented this low-frequency increase in R-R but not in arterial pressure autospectra, indicating that sympathetic nerves to the heart are instrumental in the genesis of low-frequency oscillations in R-R interval.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)178-193
Number of pages16
JournalCirculation Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1986

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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