On the fractal nature of heart rate variability in humans: Effects of vagal blockade

Y. Yamamoto*, Y. Nakamura, H. Sato, M. Yamamoto, K. Kato, R. L. Hughson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

86 Citations (Scopus)


The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effects of the vagal blocker atropine on the fractal nature of human heart rate variability (HRV) at rest. Approximately 10-min segments of beat-to-beat heartbeat intervals, i.e., HRV, of 10 normal subjects and 11 cardiac disease patients were measured before and after intravenous injection of 0.5-0.75 mg atropine sulfate. HRV data were analyzed by coarse graining spectral analysis (Y. Yamamoto and R. L. Hughson, Physica 68D: 250-264, 1993) to break down their total power into harmonic and nonharmonic (fractal) components. The harmonic component was used to calculate the contribution of high (>0.15 Hz)-frequency components to total HRV power (%HF). From the fractal component, the contribution of the fractal component to total HRV power (%fractal), the spectral exponent β, and Hurst scaling exponent (H) were calculated. For both normal subjects and cardiac patients, atropine resulted in significantly (P < 0.05) less mean HRV and significantly (P < 0.05) greater β compared with control, whereas mean values for %fractal were as high as 70% and were not significantly (P > 0.05) different between atropine and control. The mean value of H with atropine was significantly (P < 0.05) greater than that for control. Directional changes in %HF and β were consistent with only one exception for a patient who had the smallest change in log %HF by atropine. The normally irregular fractal pattern of resting HRV was decreased by atropine as shown by the decrease in %HF and the increase in β. These results suggested that the fractal components of resting HRV in humans were mediated via cardiac parasympathetic neural activity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)R830-R837
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number4 38-4
Publication statusPublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • atropine
  • coarse graining spectral analysis
  • parasympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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