The influence of acute psychological stress on cardiovascular disease is an emerging public health concern. Identification of brain mechanisms underlying this may aid in the discovery of possible treatments. Acute psychological stress may induce arteriolar vasoconstriction and reduce blood flow to vital organs. We hypothesized that functional changes in brain regions involved with memory and autonomic/emotional regulation are implicated in the vasoconstrictive stress response, including the medial prefrontal cortex (anterior cingulate), insula, and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Subjects with a history of coronary artery disease (N = 59) underwent measurement of microvascular vasomotor tone with the EndoPAT device and O–15 positron emission tomography (PET) imaging of the brain during exposure to mental stress and control conditions. The peripheral arterial tonometry (PAT) ratio was calculated as the mean peripheral vasomotor tone during stress divided by the mean tone during rest. Whole brain contrasts were performed between groups above and below the median PAT ratio, and significant contrasts were defined with cutoff p < 0.005. Stress-induced peripheral vasoconstriction (below median PAT ratio) was associated with increased stress activation in insula and parietal cortex, and decreased activation in the medial prefrontal cortex with stress tasks compared to control tasks. These findings demonstrate that stress-induced vasoreactivity is associated with changes in brain responses to stress in areas involved in emotion and autonomic regulation. These findings have important implications on possible treatments for mental stress-induced vascular toxicity.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
- Endocrine and Autonomic Systems
- Developmental Neuroscience
- Cognitive Neuroscience
- Biological Psychiatry