Resting Heart Rate Variability (HRV) in Adolescents and Young Adults from a Genetically-Informed Perspective

Jessica L Bourdon, Ashlee A Moore, Meridith Eastman, Jeanne E Savage, Laura Hazlett, Scott R Vrana, John M Hettema, Roxann Roberson-Nay

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Reduced heart rate variability (HRV) is associated with cardiac morbidity, mortality, and negative psychopathology. Most research concerning genetic influences on HRV has focused on adult populations, with fewer studies investigating the developmental period of adolescence and emerging adulthood. The current study estimated the genetic and environmental contributions to resting HRV in a sample of twins using various HRV time domain metrics to assess autonomic function across two different time measurement intervals (2.5- and 10-min). Five metrics of resting HRV [mean interbeat interval (IBI), the standard deviation of normal IBIs (SDNN), root square mean of successive differences between IBIs (RMSSD), cardiac vagal index (CVI), and cardiac sympathetic index (CSI)] were assessed in 421 twin pairs aged 14-20 during a baseline electrocardiogram. This was done for four successive 2.5-min intervals as well as the overall 10-min interval. Heritability (h2) appeared consistent across intervals within each metric with the following estimates (collapsed across time intervals): mean IBI (h2 = 0.36-0.46), SDNN (h2 = 0.23-0.30), RMSSD (h2 = 0.36-0.39), CVI (h2 = 0.37-0.42), CSI (h2 = 0.33-0.46). Beyond additive genetic contributions, unique environment also was an important influence on HRV. Within each metric, a multivariate Cholesky decomposition further revealed evidence of genetic stability across the four successive 2.5-min intervals. The same models showed evidence for both genetic and environmental stability with some environmental attenuation and innovation. All measures of HRV were moderately heritable across time, with further analyses revealing consistent patterns of genetic and environmental influences over time. This study confirms that in an adolescent sample, the time interval used (2.5- vs. 10-min) to measure HRV time domain metrics does not affect the relative proportions of genetic and environmental influences.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)386-396
Number of pages11
JournalBehavior Genetics
Issue number5
Early online date11 Jul 2018
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


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