Autonomic nervous system (ANS) dysregulation in depression is associated with symptoms associated with the ANS. The beat-to-beat pattern of heart rate defined as heart rate variability (HRV) provides a noninvasive portal to ANS function and has been proposed to represent a means of quantifying resting vagal tone. We quantified HRV in bipolar depressed (BDD) patients as a measure of ANS dysregulation seeking to establish HRV as a potential diagnostic and prognostic biomarker for treatment outcome. Forty-seven BDD patients were enrolled. They were randomized to receive either escitalopram-celecoxib or escitalopram-placebo over 8 weeks in a double-blind study design. Thirty-five patients completed the HRV studies. Thirty-six healthy subjects served as controls. HRV was assessed at pretreatment and end of study and compared with that of controls. HRV was quantified and corrected for artifacts using an algorithm that incorporates time and frequency domains to address non-stationarity of the beat-to-beat heart rate pattern. Baseline high frequency-HRV (i.e., respiratory sinus arrhythmia) was lower in BDD patients than controls, although the difference did not reach significance. Baseline low-frequency HRV was significantly lower in BDD patients (ln4.20) than controls (ln = 5.50) (p < 0.01). Baseline heart period was significantly shorter (i.e., faster heart rate) in BDD patients than controls. No significant change in HRV parameters were detected over the course of the study with either treatment. These findings suggest that components of HRV may be diminished in BDD patients.
Keywords: celecoxib; escitalopram; heart rate variability; major depression; respiratory sinus arrhythmia.