This study was addressed to investigate the contribution of vagal and sympathetic mechanisms to the genesis of low-frequency (LF) oscillations of RR-interval.
To this aim, we utilized the pathophysiological model of tetraplegics, who have intact vagal afferent and efferent pathways of the baroreceptor reflex arc but interrupted medullary-spinal sympathetic pathways.
We studied nine complete, traumatic, tetraplegics (C4–C7, TET) and 10 normally healthy subjects (NR) at rest and during physiological baroreceptors unloading induced by 70 ° head-up tilt. Autoregressive power spectral analysis was used to investigate RR-interval and systolic arterial pressure (SAP) variabilities. Baroreflex modulation of sinus node was assessed by the spontaneous baroreflex sequences method.
Both at-rest and during-tilt LF and high frequency (HF) components were detected in RR-interval of NR, whereas in TET only the HF component was observed in both conditions (with one exception). Baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) did not significantly differ between TET and NR at rest, and underwent a significant and similar decrease during tilt in both groups, being accompanied in NR by a significant increase in LF relative power. Spectral analysis of SAP provided results similar to RR-interval. Tilt also slowed the centre frequency of the LF components of RR-interval and SAP.
During unperturbed physiological conditions, a change in efferent vagal activity to the heart from baroreflex stimulation by spontaneous arterial pressure changes, is unlikely to contribute on its own to the genesis of LF heart period oscillations in humans who lack the ability to modulate sympathetic nerve traffic to the heart. However, the possibility that a baroreflex modulation of LF oscillations require an intact sympathetic control should be carefully considered.