Strong evidence for parasympathetic sinoatrial reinnervation after heart transplantation

J Heart Lung Transplant. 2022 Jul;41(7):898-909. doi: 10.1016/j.healun.2021.11.005. Epub 2021 Nov 15.


Background: Heart transplantation (HTx) surgically denervates the heart. We examined indices of sinoatrial reinnervation, with emphasis on (1) the occurrence and timing of parasympathetic reinnervation, and (2) the consequences of reinnervation for heart rate (HR) responsiveness and arterial baroreceptor sensitivity.

Methods: Fifty HTx recipients were prospectively followed for 36 months after surgery. Hemodynamic variables and heart rate variability were continuously recorded at supine rest, 60 degrees head-up-tilt, during the Valsalva maneuver and during handgrip isometric exercise.

Results: Suggesting parasympathetic reinnervation: at baseline rest, root of the mean squared differences of successive RR intervals increased from median 3.9(5.9) to 7.1(5.1) ms (p < 0.001); high-frequency power increased from 4.0(12) to 5.7(18.9) ms2 (p = 0.018); and baroreceptor sensitivity increased from 0.04(0.36) to 1.3(2.4) ms/mmHg (p < 0.001). Suggesting sympathetic reinnervation: at baseline rest low-frequency power increased from 0.49(2.5) to 7.5(18.1) ms2 (p < 0.001); and HR responses to sympathetic stimulation during (1) head-up tilt increased from 1.9(4.2) to 9.1(8.2) bpm (p < 0.001), (2) Valsalva increased from 1.6(1.4) to 8.3(10.8) bpm (p < 0.001) and (3) handgrip increased from 0.3(0.6) to 1.9(5.1) bpm (p < 0.001). Signs of sympathetic reinnervation emerged within 6 months, while signs of parasympathetic reinnervation emerged by 24 months.

Conclusions: Root of the mean squared differences of successive RR intervals, high-frequency and low-frequency variability, HR responsiveness and arterial baroreflex sensitivity all increased after HTx, suggesting functional parasympathetic and sympathetic sinoatrial reinnervation. Accordingly, the pathological regulatory state present in heart transplant recipients, which is responsible for a host of functional and clinical abnormalities, is being partially offset over time by restored autonomic control of the heart in many heart transplant recipients.

Keywords: autonomic cardiovascular control; handgrip; head-up tilt; heart rate variability; valsalva maneuver.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Autonomic Nervous System
  • Blood Pressure
  • Hand Strength*
  • Heart
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Heart Transplantation*
  • Humans