Indexed on: 25 May '11Published on: 25 May '11Published in: Physiological measurement
The origin of very low frequency (VLF) oscillations in the power spectra of heart rate variability (HRV) is controversial with possible mechanisms involving thermoregulation and/or renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. Recently, a major contribution from vagal influences has been suggested. The present study investigated the behaviour of VLF (0.004-0.040 Hz) components of HRV power spectra in a group of healthy male volunteers during their exposure to (1) dry, supine, immersion in thermo-neutral water for 6 h (n = 7) and (2) non-hypoxic hypobaria (breathing 40-60% oxygen at 15,000' simulated in a decompression chamber) for 5 h (n = 15). The two manoeuvres are established to increase vagal outflow. During both the manoeuvres, all the frequency domain indices of HRV exhibited a significant increase. Increase in HRV was much more than that in the R-R interval. At 6 h of immersion, the R-R interval increased by ∼ 15% but the total power increased ∼ fourfold. Similarly, at 5 h of exposure to hypobaria, total power increased ∼ twofold with a very modest increase in an R-R of ∼ 9%. Increase in spectral power was appreciable even after normalization with mean R-R(2). Increase in VLF during immersion was more than reported during enalaprilat blockade of angiotensin convertase enzyme. Plasma renin activity did not vary during hypobaria. There was a significant increase in pNN50, an established marker of cardiac vagal activity. Centre frequencies of the spectra and slope (β) of the relation between log(PSD) and log(frequency) did not change. Results were supportive of the notion that the parasympathetic system is pre-potent to influence slower (than respiratory) frequency components in HRV spectrum. Additionally, such an effect was without a change in the time constant of effector responses or pacemaker frequencies of VLF and LF periodicities and HRV was not a simple linear surrogate for cardiac vagal effects. An invariance of spectral exponent (β) ruled out contamination of VLF and LF spectra from fractal power as an alternate explanation.