Time-domain indices of electrodermal activity (EDA) have been used as a marker of sympathetic tone. However, they often show high variation between subjects and low consistency, which has precluded their general use as a marker of sympathetic tone. To examine whether power spectral density analysis of EDA can provide more consistent results, we recently performed a variety of sympathetic tone-evoking experiments (43). We found significant increase in the spectral power in the frequency range of 0.045 to 0.25 Hz when sympathetic tone-evoking stimuli were induced. The sympathetic tone assessed by the power spectral density of EDA was found to have lower variation and more sensitivity for certain, but not all, stimuli compared with the time-domain analysis of EDA. We surmise that this lack of sensitivity in certain sympathetic tone-inducing conditions with time-invariant spectral analysis of EDA may lie in its inability to characterize time-varying dynamics of the sympathetic tone. To overcome the disadvantages of time-domain and time-invariant power spectral indices of EDA, we developed a highly sensitive index of sympathetic tone, based on time-frequency analysis of EDA signals. Its efficacy was tested using experiments designed to elicit sympathetic dynamics. Twelve subjects underwent four tests known to elicit sympathetic tone arousal: cold pressor, tilt table, stand test, and the Stroop task. We hypothesize that a more sensitive measure of sympathetic control can be developed using time-varying spectral analysis. Variable frequency complex demodulation, a recently developed technique for time-frequency analysis, was used to obtain spectral amplitudes associated with EDA. We found that the time-varying spectral frequency band 0.08–0.24 Hz was most responsive to stimulation. Spectral power for frequencies higher than 0.24 Hz were determined to be not related to the sympathetic dynamics because they comprised less than 5% of the total power. The mean value of time-varying spectral amplitudes in the frequency band 0.08–0.24 Hz were used as the index of sympathetic tone, termed TVSymp. TVSymp was found to be overall the most sensitive to the stimuli, as evidenced by a low coefficient of variation (0.54), and higher consistency (intra-class correlation, 0.96) and sensitivity (Youden's index > 0.75), area under the receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curve (>0.8, accuracy > 0.88) compared with time-domain and time-invariant spectral indices, including heart rate variability.
- electrodermal activity
- sympathetic function
- autonomic nervous system
- variable frequency complex demodulation
- stand test
- cold pressor
- tilt table test
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