Transfer function analysis of the circulation: Unique insights into cardiovascular regulation

J. P. Saul, R. D. Berger, P. Albrecht, S. P. Stein, M. H. Chen, R. J. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

664 Scopus citations


We have demonstrated previously that transfer function analysis can be used to precisely characterize the respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) in normal humans. To further investigate the role of the autonomic nervous system in RSA and to understand the complex links between respiratory activity and arterial pressure, we determined the transfer functions between respiration, heart rate (HR), and phasic, systolic, diastolic, and pulse arterial pressures in 14 healthy subjects during 6-min periods in which the respiratory rate was controlled in a predetermined but erratic fashion. Pharmacological autonomic blockade with atropine, propranolol, and both, in combination with changes in posture, was used to characterize the sympathetic and vagal contributions to these relationships, as well as to dissect the direct mechanical links between respiration and arterial pressure from the effects of the RSA on arterial pressure. We found that 1) the pure sympathetic (standing + atropine) HR response is characterized by markedly reduced magnitude at frequencies >0.1 Hz and a phase delay, whereas pure vagal (supine + propranolol) modulation of HR is characterized by higher magnitude at all frequencies and no phase delay; 2) both the mechanical links between respiration and arterial pressure and the RSA contribute significantly to the effects of respiration on arterial pressure; 3) the RSA contribution to arterial pressure fluctuations is significant for vagal but not for sympathetic modulation of HR; 4) the mechanical effects of respiration on arterial pressure are related to the negative rate of change of instantaneous lung volume; 5) the mechanical effects have a higher magnitude during systole than during diastole; and 6) the mechanical effects are larger in the standing than the supine position. Most of these findings can be explained by a simple model of circulatory control based on previously published experimental transfer functions from our laboratory.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H1231-H1245
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number4 30-4
StatePublished - 1991
Externally publishedYes


  • autonomic nervous system
  • respiratory arrhythmia
  • spectral analysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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