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It is known that extracardiac factors (nervous, humoral, and hemodynamic) participate in the power-law behavior of heart-rate variability. To assess whether intrinsic properties of cardiac tissue might also be involved, beat- rate variability was studied in spontaneously beating cell cultures devoid of extracardiac influences. Extracellular electrograms were recorded from monolayer cultures of neonatal rat ventricular myocytes under stable incubating conditions for up to 9 hours. The beat-rate time series of these recordings were examined in terms of their Fourier spectra and their Hurst scaling exponents. A non-0 Hurst exponent was found in 21 of 22 preparations (0.39+/-0.09; range, 0.11 to 0.45), indicating the presence of fractal self-similarity in the beat-rate time series. The same preparations exhibited power-law behavior of the power spectra with a power-law exponent of - 1.36+/-0.24 (range, - 1.04 to -1.96) in the frequency range of 0.001 to 1 Hz. Furthermore, it was found that the power-law exponent was nonstationary over time. These results indicate that the power-law behavior of heart-rate variability is determined not only by extracardiac influences but also by components intrinsic to cardiac tissue. Furthermore, the presence of power-law behavior in monolayer cultures of cardiomyocytes suggests that beat-rate variability might be determined by the complex nonlinear dynamics of processes occurring at the level of the cellular network, eg, interactions among a large number of cell oscillators or metabolic regulatory systems.