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 www.jneurosci.org/content/34/18/6182.short

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

Scientists develop new drug screening tool for dystonia

December 8, 2016

Duke University researchers have identified a common mechanism underlying separate forms of dystonia, a family of brain disorders that cause involuntary, debilitating and often painful movements, including twists and turns ...

Transplanted interneurons can help reduce fear in mice

December 8, 2016

The expression "once bitten, twice shy" is an illustration of how a bad experience can induce fear and caution. How to effectively reduce the memory of aversive events is a fundamental question in neuroscience. Scientists ...

Honeybee memories: Another piece of the Alzheimer's puzzle?

December 8, 2016

A breakdown of memory processes in humans can lead to conditions such as Alzheimer's and dementia. By looking at the simpler brain of a honeybee, new research published in Frontiers in Molecular Neuroscience, moves us a step ...

0 comments

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.