Sympathetic restraint of respiratory sinus arrhythmia: implications for vagal-cardiac tone assessment in humans
Clinicians and experimentalists routinely estimate vagal-cardiac nerve traffic from respiratory sinus arrhythmia. However, evidence suggests that sympathetic mechanisms may also modulate respiratory sinus arrhythmia. Our study examined modulation of respiratory sinus arrhythmia by sympathetic outflow. We measured R-R interval spectral power in 10 volunteers that breathed sequentially at 13 frequencies, from 15 to 3 breaths/min, before and after [beta]-adrenergic blockade. We fitted changes of respiratory frequency R-R interval spectral power with a damped oscillator model: frequency-dependent oscillations with a resonant frequency, generated by driving forces and modified by damping influences. [beta]-Adrenergic blockade enhanced respiratory sinus arrhythmia at all frequencies (at some, fourfold). The damped oscillator model fit experimental data well (39 of 40 ramps; r = 0.86 +/- 0.02). [beta]-Adrenergic blockade increased respiratory sinus arrhythmia by amplifying respiration-related driving forces (P < 0.05), without altering resonant frequency or damping influences. Both spectral power data and the damped oscillator model indicate that cardiac sympathetic outflow markedly reduces heart period oscillations at all frequencies. This challenges the notion that respiratory sinus arrhythmia is mediated simply by vagal-cardiac nerve activity. These results have important implications for clinical and experimental estimation of human vagal cardiac tone.