Gender differences in autonomic cardiovascular regulation: Spectral, hormonal, and hemodynamic indexes

Joyce M. Evans, Michael G. Ziegler, Abhijit R. Patwardhan, J. Blaine Ott, Charles S. Kim, Fabio M. Leonelli, Charles F. Knapp

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

192 Scopus citations


The autonomic nervous system drives variability in heart rate, vascular tone, cardiac ejection, and arterial pressure, but gender differences in autonomic regulation of the latter three parameters are not well documented. In addition to mean values, we used spectral analysis to calculate variability in arterial pressure, heart rate (R-R interval, RRI), stroke volume, and total peripheral resistance (TPR) and measured circulating levels of catecholamines and pancreatic polypeptide in two groups of 25 ± 1.2-yr-old, healthy men and healthy follicularphase women (40 total subjects, 10 men and 10 women per group). Group 1 subjects were studied supine, before and after β and muscarinic autonomic blockades, administered singly and together on separate days of study. Group 2 subjects were studied supine and drug free with the additional measurement of skin perfusion. In the unblocked state, we found that circulating levels of epinephrine and total spectral power of stroke volume, TPR, and skin perfusion ranged from two to six times greater in men than in women. The difference (men > women) in spectral power of TPR was maintained after β- and muscarinic blockades, suggesting that the greater oscillations of vascular resistance in men may be α-adrenergically mediated. Men exhibited muscarinic buffering of mean TPR whereas women exhibited β-adrenergic buffering of mean TPR as well as TPR and heart rate oscillations. Women had a greater distribution of RRI power in the breathing frequency range and a less negative slope of ln RRI power vs. ln frequency, both indicators that parasympathetic stimuli were the dominant influence on women's heart rate variability. The results of our study suggest a predominance of sympathetic vascular regulation in men compared with a dominant parasympathetic influence on heart rate regulation in women.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2611-2618
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Applied Physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2001


  • Arterial pressure
  • Atropine
  • Autonomic balance
  • Catecholamines
  • Heart rate
  • Propranolol
  • Skin perfusion
  • Spectral power
  • Stroke volume; Peripheral resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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