Cardiac sympathetic-vagal activity initiates a functional brain-body response to emotional arousal

Author: Diego Candia-Rivera1,2, Vincenzo Catrambone1,2, Julian F Thayer3,4,5, Claudio Gentili6, Gaetano Valenza1,2
1 Bioengineering and Robotics Research Center E. Piaggio, University of Pisa, 56122 Pisa, Italy.
2 Department of Information Engineering, School of Engineering, University of Pisa, 56122 Pisa, Italy.
3 Department of Psychological Science, University of California, Irvine, CA 92697.
4 Department of Biomedical Engineering, University of California, Irvine, CA 92617.
5 Department of Psychology, The Ohio State University, Columbus, OH 43210.
6 Department of General Psychology, University of Padua, 35131 Padua, Italy.
Conference/Journal: Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A
Date published: 2022 May 24
Other: Volume ID: 119 , Issue ID: 21 , Pages: e2119599119 , Special Notes: doi: 10.1073/pnas.2119599119. , Word Count: 102

SignificanceWe investigate the temporal dynamics of brain and cardiac activities in healthy subjects who underwent an emotional elicitation through videos. We demonstrate that, within the first few seconds, emotional stimuli modulate heartbeat activity, which in turn stimulates an emotion intensity (arousal)-specific cortical response. The emotional processing is then sustained by a bidirectional brain-heart interplay, where the perceived arousal level modulates the amplitude of ascending heart-to-brain neural information flow. These findings may constitute fundamental knowledge linking neurophysiology and psychiatric disorders, including the link between depressive symptoms and cardiovascular disorders.

Keywords: EEG; brain–heart interplay; causal theory; emotion; heart-rate variability.

PMID: 35588453 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2119599119