There has been considerable interest in heart rate (fh) fluctuations in relation to cardiovascular control systems and foetal conditions during pregnancy in mammals. Prominent fluctuations in fh also occur in avian embryos, which are an important experimental model for studying developmental physiology. The present study determined the instantaneous fh of seven chick embryos continuously from the last stage of prenatal development (day 18), throughout the pipping (perinatal) period (days 19–21) until hatching and, subsequently, of newly hatched chicks (up to day 2). The distinctive patterns of instantaneous fh fluctuations took the form of specific changes within a broad mean fh baseline. Cyclic oscillations (ultradian rhythm) occurred until an early stage of the perinatal period, when the fh baseline started rising. Subsequently, the baseline dropped and respiratory arrhythmia began to appear concomitant with external pipping. During the final stage of external pipping, when the fh baseline rose again prior to hatching, three unique patterns of instantaneous fh fluctuations were evident: relatively long-lasting cyclic small accelerations, irregular intermittent large accelerations and short-term repeated large accelerations. Furthermore, repeated alternate occurrences of the latter two types of acceleration formed an additional oscillating pattern with a period of 10–15 min. During the early period after hatching, when the fh baseline reached its maximum, instantaneous fh changed relatively slowly accompanied by transient rapid decelerations, probably due to augmented vagal tone. Subsequently, the mean fh baseline dropped to its minimum, and a circadian rhythm and three types of previously reported fh fluctuations (types I-III) appeared. Developmental patterns of mean fh and the appearance of distinctive patterns of instantaneous fluctuations in fh and circadian rhythms were not influenced by an ultimate failure of hatching after a normal development. The demonstration of complex, repeatable patterns of fh fluctuation that change during development suggests that the avian embryo model should be useful in studying the phenomenon of fh fluctuation and its underlying causes.

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