1. Heart rate variability is modulated by multiple control systems, including autonomic and hormonal systems. Long-term variability, i.e. the very low-frequency band of the power spectra, has been postulated to reflect thermoregulatory vasomotor control, based upon thermal entrainment experiments. However, the relationship between thermoregulatory responses (vasoconstriction and shivering) and heart rate variability has not been studied.
2. We performed two distinct protocols in a series of human subjects. In the first protocol, core temperature was reduced by intravenous infusion of cold saline, while skin temperature was unchanged. The second protocol involved skin-surface warming and cooling until shivering developed. Power spectral analysis was performed using a fast Fourier transformation, and the area in three distinct band-widths was determined.
3. Very low-frequency power (0.0039–0.04 Hz) increased significantly in response to core cooling, peripheral vasoconstriction and shivering, while both very low- and low- (0.04–0.15 Hz) frequency power increased in response to skin-surface cooling. Heart rate decreased during core cooling-induced vasoconstriction, suggesting a direct thermal response, and increased in relation to the metabolic demands associated with shivering.
4. Our results suggest that very low-frequency power is modulated by thermal stimuli which result in core hypothermia and thermoregulatory activity, while skin-surface cooling without core hypothermia does not selectively modulate this frequency band.