1.Animal studies show that cardiac vagal tone can be modified by γ-aminobutyric acid neurons acting at several sites in the central nervous system. The present study has attempted to determine whether similar control exists in humans by using midazolam, a benzodiazepine. Benzodiazepines exert their main actions on the central nervous system by interacting co-operatively at the γ-aminobutyric acid receptor.

2.Twenty patients took part in the study before undergoing cardiac catheterization. After resting for 20 ;min in a semi-supine position on a couch, ECG, blood pressure and respiration were recorded for 5-min periods with either controlled (fixed) or free respiration. During this time a baroreceptor sensitivity test was conducted.

3.Doses of 1 ;mg and 5 ;mg of midazolam were administered intravenously.

4.Five-minute segments of data, before and after midazolam, were subjected to power spectral and time-domain analysis.

5.Midazolam caused a decrease in the high-frequency and an increase in the low-frequency components of the power spectral density plot, and in addition reduced the mean R–R interval and R–R variability expressed as the interquartile difference, and pNN50. There were no significant changes in the sensitivity of the baroreflex or in the systolic, diastolic and average blood pressures.

6.This decrease in variability of heart period, particularly at a controlled respiratory frequency, strongly suggests that cardiac vagal tone in man can be regulated by γ-aminobutyric acid neurons.

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