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 ...

Stressful situations show the head and the heart don't always agree

March 27, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—The head and the heart of people who suffer from high levels of anxiety react to stressful situations differently, researchers at the University of Birmingham have found.

Active seniors can lower heart attack risk by doing more, not less

May 5, 2014
Maintaining or boosting your physical activity after age 65 can improve your heart's electrical well-being and lower your risk of heart attack, according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Scientists discover a new pathway for fear deep within the brain

February 12, 2014
Fear is primal. In the wild, it serves as a protective mechanism, allowing animals to avoid predators or other perceived threats. For humans, fear is much more complex. A normal amount keeps us safe from danger. But in extreme ...

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

'Residual echo' of ancient humans in scans may hold clues to mental disorders

July 26, 2017
Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) have produced the first direct evidence that parts of our brains implicated in mental disorders may be shaped by a "residual echo" from our ancient past. The more ...

Laser used to reawaken lost memories in mice with Alzheimer's disease

July 26, 2017
(Medical Xpress)—A team of researchers at Columbia University has found that applying a laser to the part of a mouse brain used for memory storage caused the mice to recall memories lost due to a mouse version of Alzheimer's ...

Cognitive cross-training enhances learning, study finds

July 25, 2017
Just as athletes cross-train to improve physical skills, those wanting to enhance cognitive skills can benefit from multiple ways of exercising the brain, according to a comprehensive new study from University of Illinois ...

Brain disease seen in most football players in large report

July 25, 2017
Research on 202 former football players found evidence of a brain disease linked to repeated head blows in nearly all of them, from athletes in the National Football League, college and even high school.

Zebrafish study reveals clues to healing spinal cord injuries

July 25, 2017
Fresh insights into how zebrafish repair their nerve connections could hold clues to new therapies for people with spinal cord injuries.

Lutein may counter cognitive aging, study finds

July 25, 2017
Spinach and kale are favorites of those looking to stay physically fit, but they also could keep consumers cognitively fit, according to a new study from University of Illinois researchers.

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.