The brain continuously influences and perceives the physiological condition of the body. Related cortical representations have been proposed to shape emotional experience and guide behavior. Although previous studies have identified brain regions recruited during autonomic processing, neurological lesion studies have yet to delineate the regions critical for maintaining autonomic outflow. Even greater controversy surrounds hemispheric lateralization along the parasympathetic-sympathetic axis. The behavioral variant of frontotemporal dementia (bvFTD), featuring progressive and often asymmetric degeneration that includes the frontoinsular and cingulate cortices, provides a unique lesion model for elucidating brain structures that control autonomic tone. Here, we show that bvFTD is associated with reduced baseline cardiac vagal tone and that this reduction correlates with left-lateralized functional and structural frontoinsular and cingulate cortex deficits and with reduced agreeableness. Our results suggest that networked brain regions in the dominant hemisphere are critical for maintaining an adaptive level of baseline parasympathetic outflow.
Keywords: autonomic neuroscience; emotion; frontotemporal dementia; lateralization; salience network.