Deconstructing arousal into wakeful, autonomic and affective varieties

Neurosci Lett. 2019 Feb 6:693:19-28. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2018.01.042. Epub 2018 Jan 31.


Arousal plays a central role in a wide variety of phenomena, including wakefulness, autonomic function, affect and emotion. Despite its importance, it remains unclear as to how the neural mechanisms for arousal are organized across them. In this article, we review neuroscience findings for three of the most common origins of arousal: wakeful arousal, autonomic arousal, and affective arousal. Our review makes two overarching points. First, research conducted primarily in non-human animals underscores the importance of several subcortical nuclei that contribute to various sources of arousal, motivating the need for an integrative framework. Thus, we outline an integrative neural reference space as a key first step in developing a more systematic understanding of central nervous system contributions to arousal. Second, there is a translational gap between research on non-human animals, which emphasizes subcortical nuclei, and research on humans using non-invasive neuroimaging techniques, which focuses more on gross anatomical characterizations of cortical (e.g. network architectures including the default mode network) and subcortical structures. We forecast the importance of high-field neuroimaging in bridging this gap to examine how the various networks within the neural reference space for arousal operate across varieties of arousal-related phenomena.

Keywords: Affect; Arousal; Autonomic; Brainstem; Sleep; Wakefulness.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / diagnostic imaging
  • Autonomic Nervous System / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Stem / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Stem / physiology
  • Humans
  • Neuroimaging / methods
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Wakefulness / physiology*