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Circulation. 1998 Aug 11;98(6):547-55.

Mechanisms underlying very-low-frequency RR-interval oscillations in humans.

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  • 1Department of Internal Medicine, Hunter Holmes McGuire Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Medical College of Virginia, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA.
  • 2Med Coll VA, Richmond



Survival of post-myocardial infarction patients is related inversely to their levels of very-low-frequency (0.003 to 0.03 Hz) RR-interval variability. The physiological basis for such oscillations is unclear. In our study, we used blocking drugs to evaluate potential contributions of sympathetic and vagal mechanisms and the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system to very-low-frequency RR-interval variability in 10 young healthy subjects.


We recorded RR intervals and arterial pressures during three separate sessions, with the patient in supine and 40 degree upright tilt positions, during 20-minute frequency (0.25 Hz) and tidal volume-controlled breathing after intravenous injections: saline (control), atenolol (0.2 mg/kg, beta-adrenergic blockade), atropine sulfate (0.04 mg/kg, parasympathetic blockade), atenolol and atropine (complete autonomic blockade), and enalaprilat (0.02 mg/kg, ACE blockade). We integrated fast Fourier transform RR-interval spectral power at very low (0.003 to 0.03 Hz), low (0.05 to 0. 15 Hz), and respiratory (0.2 to 0.3 Hz) frequencies. Beta-adrenergic blockade had no significant effect on very-low- or low-frequency RR-interval power but increased respiratory frequency power 2-fold. ACE blockade had no significant effect on low or respiratory frequency RR-interval power but modestly (approximately 21%) increased very-low-frequency power in the supine (but not upright tilt) position (P<0.05). The most profound effects were exerted by parasympathetic blockade: Atropine, given alone or with atenolol, abolished nearly all RR-interval variability and decreased very-low-frequency variability by 92%.


Although very-low-frequency heart period rhythms are influenced by the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, as low and respiratory frequency RR-interval rhythms, they depend primarily on the presence of parasympathetic outflow. Therefore the prognostic value of very-low-frequency heart period oscillations may derive from the fundamental importance of parasympathetic mechanisms in cardiovascular health.

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