1. We have previously shown that brief voluntary isometric contractions of upper arm flexor muscles performed for one respiratory cycle elicit a significant decrease in the R—R interval. The present study was designed to determine if similar changes are produced by non-voluntary electrically evoked contractions and, if so, to establish the consistency and repeatability of the associated changes in the R—R interval.
2. The heart rate (R—R interval) response to voluntary or non-voluntary brief isometric contraction equivalent to 40% of the maximum voluntary contraction was studied in 10 healthy young male subjects during controlled ventilation at supine rest.
3. The absolute values of R—R intervals occurring in any one of 10 arbitrary phases of a respiratory cycle were measured and plotted by a computer.
4. Both voluntary and non-voluntary contractions elicited similar changes in heart rate and R—R interval, which were greater during expiration than during inspiration.
5. This confirms our previous finding that the magnitude of the R—R interval changes, with brief isometric contraction, is positively related to the degree of cardiac vagal tone.
6. Analysis of the variability between repeated tests initiated in either inspiration or expiration revealed that there was significantly less variability with the electrically induced contraction.
7. It was concluded that electrically induced contractions of 40% maximal voluntary contraction are a viable alternative to voluntary contractions and provide a more controllable means of measuring cardiac vagal withdrawal.