A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: Implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health

Citation: Thayer, J. F., Ahs, F., Fredrikson, M., Sollers, J. J. III, Wager, T. D. (2012). A meta-analysis of heart rate variability and neuroimaging studies: Implications for heart rate variability as a marker of stress and health. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews. 36(2): 747-756.

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Abstract:

The intimate connection between the brain and the heart was enunciated by Claude Bernard over 150
years ago. In our neurovisceral integration model we have tried to build on this pioneering work. In
the present paper we further elaborate our model and update it with recent results. Specifcally, we performed a meta-analysis of recent neuroimaging studies on the relationship between heart rate variability
and regional cerebral blood flow. We identifed a number of regions, including the amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, in which signifcant associations across studies were found. We further propose
that the default response to uncertainty is the threat response and may be related to the well known negativity bias. Heart rate variability may provide an index of how strongly 'top-down' appraisals, mediated
by cortical-subcortical pathways, shape brainstem activity and autonomic responses in the body. If the
default response to uncertainty is the threat response, as we propose here, contextual information represented in 'appraisal' systems may be necessary to overcome this bias during daily life. Thus, HRV may serve
as a proxy for 'vertical integration' of the brain mechanisms that guide fexible control over behavior with
peripheral physiology, and as such provides an important window into understanding stress and health.