A Pilot Study of Neurobiological Mechanisms of Stress and Cardiovascular Risk

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J. Douglas Bremner, MD Marina Piccinelli, PhD Ernest V. Garcia, PhD Valeria M. Moncayo, MD Lisa Elon, M.S., M.P.H Jonathon A. Nye, PhD C. David Cooke, M.S.E.E Brianna P. Washington, MD Rebeca Alvarado Ortega, BS Shivang R. Desai, MD Alexis K. Okoh, MD Brian Cheung, MD Britt O. Soyebo, BS Lucy H. Shallenberger, MPH Paolo Raggi, MD Amit J. Shah, MD Obada Daaboul, MD Mohamed Nour Jajeh, MD Carrie Ziegler, BS Emily G. Driggers, BS Nancy Murrah, RN Carlo N. De Cecco, MD Marly van Assen, PhD Robert T. Krafty, PhD Arshed A. Quyyumi, MD Viola Vaccarino, MD, PhD


Objective: Coronary heart disease is a leading cause of death and disability. Although psychological stress has been identified as an important potential contributor, mechanisms by which stress increases risk of heart disease and mortality are not fully understood. The purpose of this study was to assess mechanisms by which stress acts through the brain and heart to confer increased CHD risk.

Methods: Coronary Heart Disease patients (N=10) underwent cardiac imaging with [Tc-99m] sestamibi single photon emission tomography at rest and during a public speaking mental stress task. Patients returned for a second day and underwent positron emission tomography imaging of the brain, heart, bone marrow, aorta (indicating inflammation) and subcutaneous adipose tissue, after injection of [18F]2-fluoro-2-deoxyglucose for assessment of glucose uptake followed mental stress. Patients with (N=4) and without (N=6) mental stress-induced myocardial ischemia were compared for glucose uptake in brain, heart, adipose tissue and aorta with mental stress.

Results: Patients with mental stress-induced ischemia showed a pattern of increased uptake in the heart, medial prefrontal cortex, and adipose tissue with stress. In the heart disease group as a whole, activity increase with stress in the medial prefrontal brain and amygdala correlated with stress-induced increases in spleen (r=0.69, p=0.038; and r=0.69, p=0.04 respectfully). Stress-induced frontal lobe increased uptake correlated with stress-induced aorta uptake (r=0.71, p=0.016). Activity in insula and medial prefrontal cortex was correlated with post-stress activity in bone marrow and adipose tissue. Activity in other brain areas not implicated in stress did not show similar correlations. Increases in medial prefrontal activity with stress correlated with increased cardiac glucose uptake with stress, suggestive of myocardial ischemia (r=0.85, p=0.004). Conclusions: These findings suggest a link between brain response to stress in key areas mediating emotion and peripheral organs involved in inflammation and hematopoietic activity, as well as myocardial ischemia, in Coronary Heart Disease patients.

Keywords: stress, PTSD, cardiovascular disease, depressive disorders

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How to Cite
BREMNER, J. Douglas et al. A Pilot Study of Neurobiological Mechanisms of Stress and Cardiovascular Risk. Medical Research Archives, [S.l.], v. 11, n. 4, apr. 2023. ISSN 2375-1924. Available at: <https://esmed.org/MRA/mra/article/view/3787>. Date accessed: 29 may 2023. doi: https://doi.org/10.18103/mra.v11i4.3787.
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