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Introduction. We performed the first analysis of heart rate variability (HRV) at rest and exercise under full autonomic blockade on the same subjects, to test the conjecture that vagal tone withdrawal occurs at exercise onset. We hypothesized that, between rest and exercise: i) no differences in total power (PTOT) under parasympathetic blockade; ii) a PTOT fall under β1-sympathetic blockade; iii) no differences in PTOT under blockade of both ANS branches.

Methods. 7 males (24±3 years) performed 5-min cycling (80W) supine, preceded by 5-min rest during control and with administration of atropine, metoprolol and atropine+metoprolol (double blockade). Heart rate and arterial blood pressure were continuously recorded. HRV and blood pressure variability were determined by power spectral analysis, and baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) by the sequence method.

Results. At rest, PTOT and the powers of low (LF) and high (HF) frequency components of HRV were dramatically decreased in atropine and double blockade compared to control and metoprolol, with no effects on LF/HF ratio and on the normalised LF (LFnu) and HF (HFnu). At exercise, patterns were the same as at rest. Comparing exercise to rest, PTOT varied as hypothesized. For SAP and DAP, resting PTOT was the same in all conditions. At exercise, in all conditions, PTOT was lower than in control. BRS decreased under atropine and double blockade at rest, under control and metoprolol during exercise.

Conclusions. The results support the hypothesis that vagal suppression determined disappearance of HRV during exercise.