Uncoupling and recoupling of autonomic regulation of the heart beat in pediatric septic shock

Miles S. Ellenby, James McNames, Susanna Lai, Bruce A. McDonald, Donald Krieger, Robert J. Sclabassi, Brahm Goldstein

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

81 Scopus citations


Healthy physiological systems exhibit marked signal variability and complexity, whereas diseased systems generally show a loss of variability, decreased complexity ("decomplexification"), and increased regularity. The goal of this study was to evaluate the uncoupling and recoupling phenomenon in children with septic shock by observing serial changes in heart rate variability metrics. Data were collected from 7 children with septic shock by using the computer system in the Complex Systems Laboratory at Oregon Health Sciences University. Heart rate time series were constructed and analyzed by using the Hales Research System at intervals of 6 h during pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) hospitalization. These power spectral values were then plotted vs. time. Six of seven patients showed an increase over time in low-frequency heart rate power and the low-/high-frequency ratio, whereas high-frequency heart rate power decreased. We also compared the change in mean heart rate, heart rate standard deviation, and power spectral values during the first 24 h of PICU hospitalization vs. the remainder of the PICU stay (for the 5 patients with a PICU length of stay > 48 h). Compared to the initial 24 h in the PICU, low-frequency power and the low-/high-frequency ratio increased, whereas high-frequency power decreased over the course of the illness. This report shows the potential value of monitoring the uncoupling and recoupling phenomenon in patients with septic shock. Our results are in agreement with other investigators who report evidence of decomplexification both in experimental models of sepsis and in clinical studies and provide direction for further work.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)274-277
Number of pages4
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2001


  • Autonomic nervous system
  • Complex nonlinear systems
  • Heart rate variability
  • Multiple organ dysfunction syndrome
  • Power spectral analysis
  • Sepsis
  • Systemic inflammatory response syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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