Brain Mediators of Cardiovascular Responses to Social Threat: Part I: Reciprocal Dorsal and Ventral Sub-Regions of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex and Heart-Rate Reactivity

Posted: 28 Oct 2016

See all articles by Tor Wager

Tor Wager

University of Colorado at Boulder

Christian Waugh

Wake Forest University

Martin Lindquist

Columbia University

Doug Noll

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Barbara Fredrickson

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill

Stephan Taylor

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

Date Written: October 24, 2016

Abstract

Social threat is a key component of mental “stress” and a potent generator of negative emotions and physiological responses in the body. How the human brain processes social context and drives peripheral physiology, however, is relatively poorly understood. Human neuroimaging and animal studies implicate the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), though this heterogeneous region is likely to contain multiple subregions with diverse relationships with physiological reactivity and regulation. We used fMRI combined with a novel multi-level path analysis approach to identify brain mediators of the effects of a public speech preparation task (social evaluative threat, SET) on heart rate (HR). This model provides tests of functional pathways linking experimentally manipulated threat, regional fMRI activity, and physiological output, both across time (within person) and across individuals (between persons). It thus integrates time series connectivity and individual difference analyses in the same path model. The results provide evidence for two dissociable, inversely coupled sub-regions of MPFC that independently mediated HR responses. SET caused activity increases in a more dorsal pregenual cingulate region, whose activity was coupled with HR increases. Conversely, SET caused activity decreases in a right ventromedial/ medial orbital region, which were coupled with HR increases. Individual differences in coupling strength in each pathway independently predicted individual differences in HR reactivity. These results underscore both the importance and heterogeneity of MPFC in generating physiological responses to threat.

Suggested Citation

Wager, Tor and Waugh, Christian and Lindquist, Martin and Noll, Doug and Fredrickson, Barbara and Taylor, Stephan, Brain Mediators of Cardiovascular Responses to Social Threat: Part I: Reciprocal Dorsal and Ventral Sub-Regions of the Medial Prefrontal Cortex and Heart-Rate Reactivity (October 24, 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2858521

Tor Wager (Contact Author)

University of Colorado at Boulder ( email )

Boulder, CO

Christian Waugh

Wake Forest University ( email )

2601 Wake Forest Road
Winston-Salem, NC 27109
United States

Martin Lindquist

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Doug Noll

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

Barbara Fredrickson

University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill ( email )

102 Ridge Road
Chapel Hill, NC NC 27514
United States

Stephan Taylor

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor ( email )

500 S. State Street
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
United States

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