Introduction: Overactivity of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) plays a pivotal role in the development of cardiovascular disease. This involvement suggests that the genetic susceptibility to adverse cardiovascular events may derive in part from individual differences in SNS activity. Methods and Results: To establish a genetic contribution to SNS activity, we measured sympathetic effects on cardiac contractility in 755 healthy adult twins and their singleton siblings. The preejection period (PEP) and the ratio of PEP to the left ventricular ejection time (PEP/LVET ratio) were derived from ambulatory recordings of the ECG and thorax impedance. During this type of prolonged recordings in a real life setting, the extent of cardiac sympathetic activity will vary with the demands of daily activities. Therefore, the genetic architecture of both indices was examined separately across three daytime periods (morning, afternoon, evening), and during nighttime sleep. Results showed significant genetic contribution to PEP (48-62%) over all daily periods. Heritability estimates for PEP/LVET ratio ranged between 35% and 58%. Cardiac sympathetic activity during the waking and sleep periods was largely influenced by genetic factors that were common to the entire 24-hour period. During sleep, additional genetic influences emerged that accounted for 8% of the variance in PEP. Conclusion: Impedance-derived measures of sympathetic effects on cardiac contractility show substantial heritability across all periods of the day and during sleep.
- Netherlands Twin Register (NTR)