1. The influence of central inspiratory drive on heart rate variability was investigated in young human subjects using power spectral analysis of R—R intervals.
2. The area of the high-frequency component occurring at the respiratory frequency (0.2–0.25 Hz) in the power spectral density curves was used as an index of respiratory sinus arrhythmia.
3. Central inspiratory drive was increased by breathing a CO2-enriched (5%) gas mixture and this condition was compared with a similar degree of ventilation produced voluntarily.
4. Tests were conducted on eight young subjects with and without low-dose scopolamine (scopoderm TTS) in a double-blind cross-over trial.
5. Scopolamine decreased heart rate and increased the high-frequency peak, suggesting that its main action on the cardiac vagal pathway was a peripheral one, possibly increasing the efficacy of vagal impulses on the cardiac pacemaker.
6. With scopolamine, CO2 breathing increased the area of the high-frequency component significantly more than a similar degree of ventilatory movements produced by voluntary hyperventilation.
7. It is concluded that respiratory sinus arrhythmia in humans is at least partly dependent on a central respiratory—cardiac coupling, most probably similar to that shown in animal studies.