Brain structural and functional correlates to defense-related inhibition of muscle sympathetic nerve activity in man

Sci Rep. 2022 Feb 7;12(1):1990. doi: 10.1038/s41598-022-05910-8.


An individual's blood pressure (BP) reactivity to stress is linked to increased risk of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. However, inter- and intra-individual BP variability makes understanding the coupling between stress, BP reactivity, and long-term outcomes challenging. Previous microneurographic studies of sympathetic signaling to muscle vasculature (i.e. muscle sympathetic nerve activity, MSNA) have established a neural predictor for an individual's BP reactivity during short-lasting stress. Unfortunately, this method is invasive, technically demanding, and time-consuming and thus not optimal for widespread use. Potential central nervous system correlates have not been investigated. We used MagnetoEncephaloGraphy and Magnetic Resonance Imaging to search for neural correlates to sympathetic response profiles within the central autonomic network and sensorimotor (Rolandic) regions in 20 healthy young males. The main correlates include (a) Rolandic beta rebound and an anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) response elicited by sudden stimulation and (b) cortical thickness in the ACC. Our findings highlight the involvement of the ACC in reactions to stress entailing peripheral sympathetic responses to environmental stimuli. The Rolandic response furthermore indicates a surprisingly strong link between somatosensory and autonomic processes. Our results thus demonstrate the potential in using non-invasive neuroimaging-based measures of stress-related MSNA reactions, previously assessed only using invasive microneurography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Autonomic Pathways / physiology
  • Blood Pressure / physiology*
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Muscle, Skeletal / innervation*
  • Musculoskeletal Physiological Phenomena*
  • Sensorimotor Cortex / physiology*
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / physiology*
  • Young Adult