Enhancing respiratory sinus arrhythmia increases cardiac output in rats with left ventricular dysfunction

Erin L. O'Callaghan, Renata M. Lataro, Eva L. Roloff, Ashok S. Chauhan, Helio C. Salgado, Edward Duncan, Alain Nogaret, Julian F.R. Paton*

*Corresponding author for this work

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

12 Citations (Scopus)


Key points: Respiratory sinus arrhythmia is physiological pacing of the heart that disappears in cardiovascular disease and is associated with poor cardiac prognosis. In heart failure, cardiac pacing has little, if any, variation in rate at rest. We proposed that reinstatement of respiratory sinus arrhythmia would improve cardiac function in rats with heart failure. Heart failure rats were paced daily for 2 weeks with either respiratory sinus arrhythmia or paced monotonically at a matched heart rate; cardiac function was measured using non-invasive echocardiography. Cardiac output and stroke volume were increased in rats paced with respiratory sinus arrhythmia compared to monotonic pacing, via improvement in systolic function that persisted beyond the pacing treatment period. We propose that respiratory sinus arrhythmia pacing reverse-remodels the heart in heart failure and is worth considering as a new form of cardiac pacemaking. Abstract: Natural pacing of the heart results in heart rate variability, an indicator of good health and cardiac function. A contributor to heart rate variability is respiratory sinus arrhythmia or RSA – an intrinsic respiratory modulated pacing of heart rate. The loss of RSA is associated with poor cardiac prognosis and sudden cardiac death. We tested if reinstatement of respiratory-modulated heart rate (RMH) would improve cardiac performance in heart failure. Heart failure was induced in Wistar rats by ligation of the left anterior descending coronary artery. Rats were unpaced, monotonically paced and RMH paced; the latter had the same average heart rate as the monotonically paced animals. Cardiac function was assessed non-invasively using echocardiography before and after 2 weeks of daily pacing at a time when pacing was turned off. RMH increased cardiac output by 20 ± 8% compared to monotonic pacing (−3 ± 5%; P < 0.05). This improvement in cardiac output was associated with an increase in stroke volume compared to monotonic pacing (P = 0.03) and improvement in circumferential strain (P = 0.02). Improvements in ejection fraction (P = 0.08) and surrogate measures of left ventricle compliance did not reach significance. Increases in contractility (P < 0.05) and coronary blood flow (P < 0.05) were seen in vitro during variable pacing to mimic RMH. Thus, in rats with left ventricular dysfunction, chronic RMH pacing improved cardiac function through improvements in systolic function. As these improvements were made with pacing switched off, we propose the novel idea that RMH pacing causes reverse-remodelling.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-471
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number3
Early online date12 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2020


  • cardiac pacing
  • echocardiography
  • heart failure
  • heart rate variability


Dive into the research topics of 'Enhancing respiratory sinus arrhythmia increases cardiac output in rats with left ventricular dysfunction'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this