Cardio-respiratory interactions and relocation of heartbeats within the respiratory cycle during spontaneous and paced breathing

Physiol Meas. 2011 Sep;32(9):1389-401. doi: 10.1088/0967-3334/32/9/003. Epub 2011 Jul 20.


The capability of respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) to generate privileged locations for the occurrence of R-peaks within the respiratory cycle has been questioned in recent works, challenging the hypothesis that RSA might play a role in improving pulmonary gas exchange. We assessed such a capability submitting healthy humans to spontaneous and paced breathing (SB and PB) protocols, estimating the fraction of beats occurring during inspiration, at low, medium, and high respiratory volumes, and during the first and second half of inspiration and expiration. Then, the same fractions were computed assuming a random uniform distribution of heartbeats, and the differences were compared. The results found are as follows: (1) during PB at 6 rpm, heartbeats redistribute toward inspiration; (2) during SB and PB at 12 rpm, heartbeats tend to cluster when respiratory volume is high; (3) since such redistributions are limited in magnitude, it is possible that its physiological relevance is marginal, for instance, in terms of within-cycle variations in lung perfusion; (4) two groups of subjects with considerably different levels of RSA showed similar redistribution of heartbeats, suggesting that this phenomenon might be an underlying effect of the overall cardio-respiratory interactions, and not directly of RSA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Female
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*
  • Young Adult