Background: Heart rate (HR) variability has been recognized as an important noninvasive index of autonomic nervous activities. However, the relationship between HR variability and cardiac circulating norepinephrine (NE), especially with respect to coronary ischemia, remains unclear.
Hypothesis: This study was undertaken to determine whether HR variability indices can reflect cardiac NE levels during handgrip exercise.
Methods: We simultaneously measured HR variability and cardiac NE overflow rate in 32 patients (30 men, 2 women) during a 6-min isometric handgrip exercise. Among the 32 subjects, 20 (19 men, 1 woman) had coronary artery disease (CAD) and 12 (control group; 11 men, 1 woman) did not.
Results: Hemodynamics and cardiac NE overflow rates among subjects at rest were not significantly different between the two groups. In the normal subjects, low-frequency (LF) spectra and LF/HF (high-frequency) ratios were not significantly changed during handgrip exercise, but HF spectra significantly increased from 10.1 +/- 4.5 to 12.2 +/- 7.0 ms (p < 0.05). In the subjects with CAD, LF and LF/HF spectra were significantly (p < 0.05 and 0.01, respectively) increased by handgrip exercise. High-frequency spectra were not significantly changed by handgrip exercise. In the normal subjects, a significant negative relation (r = -0.76, p < 0.01) was obtained between HF change and cardiac NE overflow rate, whereas this relationship was not significant in the subjects with CAD. The correlation between changes of LF/HF and cardiac NE overflow rate was significant in the normal (r = 0.56, p < 0.05) but not in subjects with CAD.
Conclusion: These results suggest that vagal modulation of HR variability is more prominent in normal coronary artery subjects than in CAD subjects during handgrip exercise. Heart rate variability indices may thus serve as adequate indicators of autonomic nerve activity in subjects with normal coronary arteries but not in those with CAD, probably due to decreased adaptation to physical stress during handgrip exercise.