Effect of acetylcholinesterase inhibition with pyridostigmine on cardiac parasympathetic function in sedentary adults and trained athletes

Thomas A. Dewland, Ana Silvia Androne, Forrester A. Lee, Rachel J. Lampert, Stuart D. Katz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

45 Scopus citations


Heart rate variability and postexercise heart rate recovery are used to assess cardiac parasympathetic tone in human studies, but in some cases these indexes appear to yield discordant information. We utilized pyridostigmine, an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor that selectively augments the parasympathetic efferent signal, to further characterize parasympathetic regulation of rest and postexercise heart rate. We measured time- and frequency-domain indexes of resting heart rate variability and postexercise heart rate recovery in 10 sedentary adults and 10 aerobically trained athletes after a single oral dose of pyridostigmine (30 mg) and matching placebo in randomized, double-blind, crossover trial. In sedentary adults, pyridostigmine decreased resting heart rate [from 66.7 (SD 12.6) to 58.1 beats/min (SD 7.6), P = 0.005 vs. placebo] and increased postexercise heart rate recovery at 1 min [from 40.7 (SD 10.9) to 45.1 beats/min (SD 8.8), P = 0.02 vs. placebo]. In trained athletes, pyridostigmine did not change resting heart rate or postexercise heart rate recovery when compared with placebo. Time- and frequency-domain indexes of resting heart rate variability did not differ after pyridostigmine versus placebo in either cohort and were not significantly associated with postexercise heart rate recovery in either cohort. The divergent effects of pyridostigmine on resting and postexercise measures of cardiac parasympathetic function in sedentary subjects confirm that these measures characterize distinct aspects of cardiac parasympathetic regulation. The lesser effect of pyridostigmine on either measure of cardiac parasympathetic tone in the trained athletes indicates that the enhanced parasympathetic tone associated with exercise training is at least partially attributable to adaptations in the efferent parasympathetic pathway.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)H86-H92
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 1 2007



  • Exercise
  • Heart rate recovery
  • Heart rate variability
  • Parasympathetic nervous system

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)

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