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Am J Physiol. 1999 Jan;276(1):H215-23. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.1999.276.1.H215.

Low-frequency component of the heart rate variability spectrum: a poor marker of sympathetic activity.

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Department of Physiology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA.


The low-frequency component of the heart rate variability spectrum (0.06-0.10 Hz) is often used as an accurate reflection of sympathetic activity. Therefore, interventions that enhance cardiac sympathetic drive, e.g., exercise and myocardial ischemia, should elicit increases in the low-frequency power. Furthermore, because an enhanced sympathetic activation has been linked to an increased propensity for malignant arrhythmias, one might also predict a greater low-frequency power in animals that are susceptible to ventricular fibrillation than in resistant animals. To test these hypotheses, a 2-min coronary occlusion was made during the last minute of exercise in 71 dogs with healed myocardial infarctions: 43 had ventricular fibrillation (susceptible) and 28 did not experience arrhythmias (resistant). Exercise or ischemia alone provoked significant heart rate increases in both groups of animals, with the largest increase in the susceptible animals. These heart rate increases were attenuated by beta-adrenergic receptor blockade. Despite the sympathetically mediated increases in heart rate, the low-frequency power decreased, rather than increased, in both groups, with the largest decrease again in the susceptible animals: 4.0 +/- 0.2 (susceptible) vs. 4.1 +/- 0.2 ln ms2 (resistant) in preexercise control and 2.2 +/- 0.2 (susceptible) vs. 2.9 +/- 0.2 ln ms2 (resistant) at highest exercise level. In a similar manner the parasympathetic antagonist atropine sulfate elicited significant reductions in the low-frequency power. Although sympathetic nerve activity was not directly recorded, these data suggest that the low-frequency component of the heart rate power spectrum probably results from an interaction of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems and, as such, does not accurately reflect changes in the sympathetic activity.

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