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IEEE Trans Biomed Eng. 2009 Mar;56(3):685-95. doi: 10.1109/TBME.2008.2009358. Epub 2008 Dec 2.

Time-varying surrogate data to assess nonlinearity in nonstationary time series: application to heart rate variability.

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Biophysics and Biosignals Laboratory, Department of Physics, University of Trento, Trent 12 I-38100, Italy.


We propose a method to extend to time-varying (TV) systems the procedure for generating typical surrogate time series, in order to test the presence of nonlinear dynamics in potentially nonstationary signals. The method is based on fitting a TV autoregressive (AR) model to the original series and then regressing the model coefficients with random replacements of the model residuals to generate TV AR surrogate series. The proposed surrogate series were used in combination with a TV sample entropy (SE) discriminating statistic to assess nonlinearity in both simulated and experimental time series, in comparison with traditional time-invariant (TIV) surrogates combined with the TIV SE discriminating statistic. Analysis of simulated time series showed that using TIV surrogates, linear nonstationary time series may be erroneously regarded as nonlinear and weak TV nonlinearities may remain unrevealed, while the use of TV AR surrogates markedly increases the probability of a correct interpretation. Application to short (500 beats) heart rate variability (HRV) time series recorded at rest (R), after head-up tilt (T), and during paced breathing (PB) showed: 1) modifications of the SE statistic that were well interpretable with the known cardiovascular physiology; 2) significant contribution of nonlinear dynamics to HRV in all conditions, with significant increase during PB at 0.2 Hz respiration rate; and 3) a disagreement between TV AR surrogates and TIV surrogates in about a quarter of the series, suggesting that nonstationarity may affect HRV recordings and bias the outcome of the traditional surrogate-based nonlinearity test.

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