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Stochastic vagal modulation of cardiac pacemaking may lead to erroneous identification of cardiac “chaos”
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Fluctuations in the time interval between two consecutive R-waves of electrocardiogram during normal sinus rhythm may result from irregularities in the autonomic drive of the pacemaking sinoatrial node (SAN). We use a biophysically detailed mathematical model of the action potentials of rabbit SAN to quantify the effects of fluctuations in acetylcholine (ACh) on the pacemaker activity of the SAN and its variability. Fluctuations in ACh concentration model the effect of stochastic activity in the vagal parasympathetic fibers that innervate the SAN and produce varying rates of depolarization during the pacemaker potential, leading to fluctuations in cycle length (CL). Both the estimated maximal Lyapunov exponent and the noise limit of the resultant sequence of fluctuating CLs suggest chaotic dynamics. Apparently chaotic heart rate variability (HRV) seen in sinus rhythm can be produced by stochastic modulation of the SAN. The identification of HRV data as chaotic by use of time series measures such as a positive maximal Lyapunov exponent or positive noise limit requires both caution and a quantitative, predictive mechanistic model that is fully deterministic.
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