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Keywords:

  • Cardiac vagal tone;
  • Parasympathetic cardiac control;
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia;
  • Respiration;
  • Autonomic control of heart rate;
  • Pharmacological blockade;
  • Atropine;
  • Propranolol

Abstract

Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) is frequently employed as an intra- and interindividual index of cardiac parasympathetic tone, although the relationship of RSA to interindividual differences in cardiac vagal tone remains questionable. Our study examined between- and within-subject relations among RSA, cardiac vagal tone, and respiratory parameters. Twenty-nine young adults performed two sessions of tasks under no medication and single and double autonomic blockade (intravenously administered propranolol and atropine). Parasympathetic tone was determined from heart period responses to complete vagal blockade. Results indicated the following. Resting RSA does not accurately predict individual differences in cardiac vagal tone. However, RSA and heart period together do predict such individual differences reasonably well. The relationship between individual variations in RSA and vagal tone is not improved by controlling respiratory parameters. Substantial cardiac vagal activity occurs during inspiration, and intraindividual variations in respiratory measures confound the association between RSA and cardiac vagal tone.