The electrical stability of the myocardium is dependent on the dynamic balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic influences on the heart, which is reflected by heart rate variability (HRV). Reduced HRV is a proposed predictor of sudden death caused by ventricular tachyarrhythmias in cardiac patients. However, the link between individual differences in HRV and ventricular tachyarrhythmic risk in populations without known pre-existing cardiac conditions is less well explored. In this study we investigated the extent to which individual differences in resting state HRV predict susceptibility to spontaneous and pharmacologically-induced ventricular arrhythmias in healthy rats. Radiotelemetric transmitters were implanted in 42 adult male Wild-type Groningen rats. ECG signals were recorded during 24-h resting conditions and under β-adrenoceptor pharmacological stimulation with isoproterenol and analyzed by means of time- and frequency-domain indexes of HRV. No significant association was found between individual differences in resting measures of HRV and spontaneous incidence of ventricular arrhythmias. However, lower resting values of HRV predicted a higher number of ventricular ectopic beats following β-adrenergic pharmacological stimulation with isoproterenol (0.02 mg/kg). Moreover, after isoproterenol administration, one rat with low resting HRV developed sustained ventricular tachycardia that led to death. The present results might be indicative of the potential utility of HRV measures of resting cardiac autonomic function for the prediction of ventricular arrhythmias, particularly during conditions of strong sympathetic activation, in populations without known cardiac disease.
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