Dysregulation of the cardiac autonomic nervous system, as indexed by reduced heart rate variability (HRV), has been associated with the development of high blood pressure (BP). However, the underlying pathological mechanisms are not yet fully understood. This study aimed to estimate heritability of HRV and BP and to determine their genetic overlap. We used baseline data of the 3-generation Lifelines population-based cohort study (n=149 067; mean age, 44.5). In-house software was used to calculate root mean square of successive differences and SD of normal-to-normal intervals as indices of HRV based on 10-second resting ECGs. BP was recorded with an automatic BP monitor. We estimated heritabilities and genetic correlations with variance components methods in ASReml software. We additionally estimated genetic correlations with bivariate linkage disequilibrium score regression using publicly available genome-wide association study data. The heritability (SE) estimates were 15.6% (0.90%) for SD of normal-to-normal intervals and 17.9% (0.90%) for root mean square of successive differences. For BP measures, they ranged from 24.4% (0.90%) for pulse pressure to 30.3% (0.90%) for diastolic BP. Significant negative genetic correlations (all P<0.0001) of root mean square of successive differences/SD of normal-to-normal intervals with systolic BP (-0.20/-0.16) and with diastolic BP (-0.15/-0.13) were observed. LD score regression showed largely consistent genetic correlation estimates of root mean square of successive differences/SD of normal-to-normal intervals with systolic BP (range, -0.08 to -0.23) and diastolic BP (range, -0.20 to -0.27). Our study shows a substantial contribution of genetic factors in explaining the variance of HRV and BP measures in the general population. The significant negative genetic correlations between HRV and BP indicate that genetic pathways for HRV and BP partially overlap.
Bakker, S. (Creator), Dotinga, A. (Creator), Vonk, J. (Creator), Smidt, N. (Creator), Scholtens, S. (Creator), Swertz, M. (Creator), Wijmenga, C. (Creator), Wolffenbuttel, B. (Creator), Stolk, R. (Creator), van Zon, S. (Creator), Rosmalen, J. (Creator), Postma, D. S. (Creator), de Boer, R. (Creator), Navis, G. (Creator), Slaets, J. (Creator), Ormel, H. (Creator), van Dijk, F. (Creator) & Bolmer, B. (Data Manager), Lifelines, 2006