Abstract and Keywords
Large individual differences in the activity of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) play a key role in risk for cardiovascular disease. This chapter presents an overview of the measurement strategies that can be used to study ANS activity in samples that are sufficiently large to allow genetic analyses. Heart rate variability, in particular, respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) is identified as the measure of choice to index parasympathetic activity, whereas preejection period (PEP) is the measure of choice to index sympathetic activity. Twin studies have demonstrated significant genetic contributions to resting levels of both RSA (heritability estimates range from 25 to 71 percent) and PEP (heritability estimates range from 48 to 74 percent) and the genetic variance in these traits seems to further increase under conditions of psychological stress. Identifying the genetic variants that influence parasympathetic and sympathetic activity may increase our understanding of the role of the ANS in cardiovascular disease.
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