Stress, depression and cardiovascular dysregulation: a review of neurobiological mechanisms and the integration of research from preclinical disease models

Stress. 2009 Jan;12(1):1-21. doi: 10.1080/10253890802046281.


Bidirectional associations between mood disorders and cardiovascular diseases are extensively documented. However, the precise physiological and biochemical mechanisms that underlie such relationships are not well understood. This review focuses on the neurobiological processes and mediators that are common to both mood and cardiovascular disorders. The discussion places an emphasis on the role of exogenous stressors in addition to: (a) neuroendocrine and neurohumoral changes involving dysfunction of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis and the activation of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system, (b) immune alterations including activation of pro-inflammatory cytokines, (c) autonomic and cardiovascular dysregulation including increased sympathetic drive, withdrawal of parasympathetic tone, cardiac rate and rhythm disturbances, and altered baroreceptor reflex function, (d) central neurotransmitter system dysfunction involving the dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin systems, and (e) behavioral changes including fatigue and physical inactivity. The review also discusses experimental investigations using preclinical disease models to elucidate the neurobiological mechanisms underlying the link between mood disorders and cardiovascular disease. These include: (a) the chronic mild stress model of depression, (b) a model of congestive heart failure, (c) a model of cardiovascular deconditioning, (d) pharmacological manipulations of body fluid and sodium balance, and (e) pharmacological manipulations of the central serotonergic system. In combination with an extensive human research literature, the investigation of mechanisms underlying mood and cardiovascular regulation using animal models will enhance understanding the association between depression and cardiovascular disease. This will ultimately promote the development of better treatments and interventions for individuals with co-morbid psychological and somatic pathologies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiopathology
  • Baroreflex
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / physiopathology
  • Cardiovascular System / physiopathology*
  • Cytokines / physiology
  • Depression / complications
  • Depression / physiopathology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fatigue / complications
  • Humans
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Mood Disorders / physiopathology*
  • Pituitary-Adrenal System / physiopathology
  • Renin-Angiotensin System / physiology
  • Serotonin / physiology
  • Stress, Psychological / physiopathology*


  • Cytokines
  • Serotonin

Grant support