Researcher discovers the mechanisms that link brain alertness and increased heart rate

May 6, 2014

George Washington University (GW) researcher David Mendelowitz, Ph.D., was recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience for his research on how heart rate increases in response to alertness in the brain. Specifically, Mendelowitz looked at the interactions between neurons that fire upon increased attention and anxiety and neurons that control heart rate to discover the "why," "how," and "where to next" behind this phenomenon.

"This study examines how changes in alertness and focus increase your heart rate," said Mendelowitz, vice chair and professor of pharmacology and physiology at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "If you need to focus on a new task at hand, or suddenly need to become more alert, your heart rate increases. We sought to understand the mechanisms of how that happens."

While the association between vigilance and increased heart rate is long accepted, the neurobiological link had not yet been identified. In this study, Mendelowitz found that locus coeruleus (LC) noradrenergic —neurons critical in generating alertness—directly influence brainstem parasympathetic cardiac vagal neurons (CVNs)—neurons responsible for controlling . LC noradrenergic neurons were shown to inhibit the brainstem CVNs that generate parasympathetic activity to the heart. The receptors activated within this pathway may be targets for new drug therapies to promote slower heart rates during heightened states.

"Our results have important implications for how we may treat certain conditions in the future, such as , chronic anxiety, or even stress," said Mendelowitz. "Understanding how these events alter the cardiovascular system gives us clues on how we may target these pathways in the future."

Explore further: Understanding the role of IKACh in cardiac function

More information: The study, titled "Optogenetic stimulation of locus coeruleus neurons augments inhibitory transmission to parasympathetic cardiac vagal neurons via activation of brainstem α1 and β1 receptors," is available at

Related Stories

Understanding the role of IKACh in cardiac function

July 15, 2013

Researchers have uncovered a previously unknown role for the acetylcholine-activated inward-rectifying potassium current (IKACh) in cardiac pacemaker activity and heart rate regulation, according to a study in The Journal ...

Researchers show how lost sleep leads to lost neurons

March 18, 2014

Most people appreciate that not getting enough sleep impairs cognitive performance. For the chronically sleep-deprived such as shift workers, students, or truckers, a common strategy is simply to catch up on missed slumber ...

A brain area responsible for grasping

April 4, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—The research group led by Silvia Arber at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research and the Biozentrum of the University of Basel has shown that limb motor control is regulated by a selective ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.