1. The relative contribution of the sympathetic and parasympathetic components of the autonomic nervous system to the regulation of the chronotropic reponse to dynamic exercise was evaluated indirectly in nine patients with thyrotoxicosis and in seven normal volunteers. All subjects were women, with equivalent ages in both groups. Six of the nine patients with hyperthyroidism were reevaluated after clinical compensation of the disease with propylthiouracil.
2. Heart rate responses were evaluated during discontinuous dynamic effort maintained for 4 min on a bicycle ergometer at levels of 5, 15, 25 and 50 W, and also of 75 W in normal individuals. The study was also performed under conditions of sympathetic pharmacological blockade with propranolol (0.2 mg/kg body weight).
3. Even though the magnitude of the total increase in heart rate evoked by each level of dynamic exercise was equivalent in normal and hyperthyroid patients, the tachycardiac response occurring at the beginning of the exercise, which depends on a predominantly vagal mechanism, was substantially different from that observed after 30 s of effort, when sympathetic contribution becomes more important. The hyperthyroid patients showed considerably lower increases in heart rate than the normal individuals during the initial 30 s of effort, with the opposite occurring from this moment onward.
4. In the hyperthyroid patients, β-adrenergic blockage depressed tachycardia after 30 s of effort at the 15 and 50 W levels, whereas in normal individuals this effect was only manifested at 50 and 75 W.
5. The patients who obtained clinical compensation showed a pattern of chronotropic response which tended to be close to that shown by normal subjects.
6. These data demonstrate depression of the capacity for vagal withdrawal during exercise in hyperthyroid patients, in association with a greater activation of the sympathetic component in relation to normal subjects. These functional modifications seem to be at least partially reversible when the patients are controlled clinically with anti-thyroid drugs.