Linear and non-linear indices of vagal nerve in relation to sex and inflammation in patients with Covid-19

Luba Hunakova, Peter Sabaka, Milan Zvarik, Iveta Mikolaskova, Yori Gidron, Maria Bucova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hyperinflammation is one of the most important pathophysiological risk factors for poor prognosis in patients with coronavirus disease-2019 (Covid-19). Low vagal neuro-immune modulation can lead into this kind of immune dysregulation. The association between vagal activity, sex and inflammatory markers were investigated in patients with Covid-19. A total of 19 patients with Covid-19 were included in the present study. Vagus nerve activity was indexed by heart rate variability (HRV) derived from electrocardiogram at hospital admission. Linear HRV parameters included the root mean square of successive RR interval differences (RMSSD) and high-frequency HRV (HF-HRV), while non-linear parameters included 2 UV%. Immune/inflammatory parameters included C-reactive protein (CRP), interleukin-6 (IL-6), neutrophil/lymphocyte ratio (NLR), systemic inflammatory index (SII), and procalcitonin (PCT). It has been revealed that both linear HRV indices HF-HRV and RMSSD, are significantly negatively correlated with CRP and IL-6, independent of age. The non-linear index of 2 UV% is significantly negatively correlated with NLR and SII, which reflect subtle changes in the response of immunocompetent cells. Patients that received high-flow nasal oxygen therapy had significantly higher IL-6 and CRP levels and lower levels of HF-HRV and RMSSD. These patients also had a significantly longer length of stay in hospital (LOS) than patients receiving low-flow oxygen therapy. Men had higher plasma PCT levels and longer LOS in hospital than women, and PCT statistically explained (mediated) the association between sex and LOS. The present study showed different correlations of linear and non-linear vagal indexes of HRV and inflammatory markers in patients with Covid-19. Significant sex differences in certain inflammatory markers were also observed, which may very well verify previous findings of poor prognosis in men with Covid-19. HRV reflects a continuous interaction between the sympathetic and parasympathetic autonomic nervous systems, which are affected by mental or physical stress, and certain disease states. The increased sympathetic and decreased parasympathetic vagal tone contribute to a higher risk of diseases associated with inflammation, cardiovascular disease, cancer, pulmonary diseases and other pathologies, including infectious diseases such as Covid-19. The present study showed that higher RMSSD (a marker of vagal activity) in Covid-19 patients is associated with lower levels of inflammatory biomarkers, a lower need for treatment and is negatively correlated with intensive care unit admission, leading to a shorter hospital stay. These findings support the idea that activation of vagus nerve may help certain Covid-19 patients by reducing the cytokine storm and excessive inflammation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number80
JournalBiomedical Reports
Issue number5
StatePublished - Nov 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Hunakova et al.


  • covid-19
  • heart rate variability
  • inflammation
  • vagal activity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • General Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics (all)


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