Breath-by-breath analysis of cardiorespiratory interaction for quantifying developmental maturity in premature infants

J Appl Physiol (1985). 2012 Mar;112(5):859-67. doi: 10.1152/japplphysiol.01152.2011. Epub 2011 Dec 15.


In healthy neonates, connections between the heart and lungs through brain stem chemosensory pathways and the autonomic nervous system result in cardiorespiratory synchronization. This interdependence between cardiac and respiratory dynamics can be difficult to measure because of intermittent signal quality in intensive care settings and variability of heart and breathing rates. We employed a phase-based measure suggested by Schäfer and coworkers (Schäfer C, Rosenblum MG, Kurths J, Abel HH. Nature 392: 239-240, 1998) to obtain a breath-by-breath analysis of cardiorespiratory interaction. This measure of cardiorespiratory interaction does not distinguish between cardiac control of respiration associated with cardioventilatory coupling and respiratory influences on the heart rate associated with respiratory sinus arrhythmia. We calculated, in sliding 4-min windows, the probability density of heartbeats as a function of the concurrent phase of the respiratory cycle. Probability density functions whose Shannon entropy had a <0.1% chance of occurring from random numbers were classified as exhibiting interaction. In this way, we analyzed 18 infant-years of data from 1,202 patients in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at University of Virginia. We found evidence of interaction in 3.3 patient-years of data (18%). Cardiorespiratory interaction increased several-fold with postnatal development, but, surprisingly, the rate of increase was not affected by gestational age at birth. We find evidence for moderate correspondence between this measure of cardiorespiratory interaction and cardioventilatory coupling and no evidence for respiratory sinus arrhythmia, leading to the need for further investigation of the underlying mechanism. Such continuous measures of physiological interaction may serve to gauge developmental maturity in neonatal intensive care patients and prove useful in decisions about incipient illness and about hospital discharge.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Birth Weight / physiology
  • Breath Tests / methods
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature / growth & development
  • Infant, Premature / physiology*
  • Intensive Care Units, Neonatal
  • Lung / physiology*
  • Male
  • Respiratory Mechanics / physiology*