Systemic inflammation is associated with sympathetic cardiac activation and decreased HRV (heart rate variability) in subjects at high risk of CAD (coronary artery disease). In the present study, we examined the influence of systemic inflammation, measured by CRP (C-reactive protein), on vagal HR (heart rate) control during behavioural relaxation in patients with CAD. It was hypothesized that CRP would be associated with decreased vagal HR modulation. Consecutive patients were screened 2 weeks prior to elective PTCA (percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty). The study was comprised of 29 subjects who represented the first and fourth quartiles of the CRP distribution: Low (0.47±0.07 μg/ml)- and High (8.19±1.95 μg/ml)-CRP groups respectively. Vagal HR control was quantified as RR high-frequency spectral power (0.15 to 0.40 Hz), and was assessed in log-transformed absolute units (logHF power). Near-IR particle immunoassay was used to determine high-sensitivity CRP concentration. Assessment entailed 5 min of silent reading and self-guided behavioural relaxation. RR logHF power was decreased in the High-CRP group across both assessment procedures (P=0.032). Behavioural relaxation increased RR logHF power for both the Low- and High-CRP groups (P=0.033). Hierarchical linear regression determined that CRP accounted for 18.9% of the variance in RR logHF power during behavioural relaxation (P=0.03), independent of baseline RR interval, cardiac medication, respiratory logHF power and body mass index. In conclusion, patients with CAD had augmented vagal HR control with behavioural relaxation, but this effect was moderated by the severity of CRP. Therefore it may be advisable to assess systemic inflammation in interventions aimed at improving neurocardiac regulation in patients with CAD.

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