Cardiorespiratory interactions in humans and animals: Rhythms for life

Maja Elstad*, Erin L. O’Callaghan, Alex J. Smith, Alona Ben-Tal, Rohit Ramchandra

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

101 Citations (Scopus)


The cardiorespiratory system exhibits oscillations from a range of sources. One of the most studied oscillations is heart rate variability, which is thought to be beneficial and can serve as an index of a healthy cardiovascular system. Heart rate variability is dampened in many diseases including depression, autoimmune diseases, hypertension, and heart failure. Thus, understanding the interactions that lead to heart rate variability, and its physiological role, could help with prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cardiovascular diseases. In this review, we consider three types of cardiorespiratory interactions: respiratory sinus arrhythmia (variability in heart rate at the frequency of breathing), cardioventilatory coupling (synchronization between the heart beat and the onset of inspiration), and respiratory stroke volume synchronization (the constant phase difference between the right and the left stroke volumes over one respiratory cycle). While the exact physiological role of these oscillations continues to be debated, the redundancies in the mechanisms responsible for its generation and its strong evolutionary conservation point to the importance of cardiorespiratory interactions. The putative mechanisms driving cardiorespiratory oscillations as well as the physiological significance of these oscillations will be reviewed. We suggest that cardiorespiratory interactions have the capacity to both dampen the variability in systemic blood flow as well as improve the efficiency of work done by the heart while maintaining physiological levels of arterial CO2. Given that reduction in variability is a prognostic indicator of disease, we argue that restoration of this variability via pharmaceutical or device-based approaches may be beneficial in prolonging life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)H6-H17
Number of pages12
JournalAJP - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number1
Early online date1 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Cardiac stroke volume
  • Cardioventilatory coupling
  • Heart failure
  • Mathematical modeling
  • Respiratory sinus arrhythmia


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