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Psychophysiology. 2014 Oct;51(10):1023-36. doi: 10.1111/psyp.12246. Epub 2014 Jun 3.

Heritability of cardiac vagal control in 24-h heart rate variability recordings: influence of ceiling effects at low heart rates.

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Department of Biological Psychology, Vrije University (VU) Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; EMGO+ Institute for Health and Care Research, VU University Medical Center, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.


This study estimated the heritability of 24-h heart rate variability (HRV) measures, while considering ceiling effects on HRV at low heart rates during the night. HRV was indexed by the standard deviation of all valid interbeat intervals (SDNN), the root mean square of differences between valid, successive interbeat intervals (RMSSD), and peak-valley respiratory sinus arrhythmia (pvRSA). Sleep and waking levels of cardiac vagal control were assessed in 1,003 twins and 285 of their non-twin siblings. Comparable heritability estimates were found for SDNN (46%-53%), RMSSD (49%-54%), and pvRSA (48%-57%) during the day and night. A nighttime ceiling effect was revealed in 10.7% of participants by a quadratic relationship between mean pvRSA and the interbeat interval. Excluding these participants did not change the heritability estimates. The genetic factors influencing ambulatory pvRSA, RMSSD, and SDNN largely overlap. These results suggest that gene-finding studies may pool the different cardiac vagal indices and that exclusion of participants with low heart rates is not required.


Ambulatory monitoring; Parasympathetic nervous system; RMSSD; RSA; Twins

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