1. The effect of a variation in inspiration and expiration times on heart rate variability was studied in 12 healthy subjects (mean age 30±6 years; five females).
2. Two 2 min trials of controlled breathing, with either short inspiration followed by long expiration or long inspiration followed by short expiration, were compared. Average expiration/inspiration time ratios were 1.0 and 3.4, respectively. The respiration rate in both trials was approximately 10 cycles/min.
3. In trials with short inspiration followed by long expiration, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA; as measured by mean absolute differences and by the high frequency band) was significantly larger than in trials with long inspiration followed by short expiration. This effect could not be accounted for by differences in respiration rate or respiratory amplitude. The higher RSA during fast/slow respiration is primarily due to a more pronounced phasic heart rate increase during inspiration, indicating that inspiratory vagal blockade is sensitive to the steepness of inspiration.
4. Respiration rate and tidal volume are respiratory variables known to modulate RSA. The results of the present study indicate that RSA can also be modulated by a third respiratory variable, the expiratory/inspiratory time ratio.