Neural control of vascular reactions: Impact of emotion and attention

Hadas Okon-Singer, Jan Mehnert, Jana Hoyer, Lydia Hellrung, Herma Lina Schaare, Juergen Dukart, Arno Villringer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study investigated the neural regions involved in blood pressure reactions to negative stimuli and their possible modulation by attention. Twenty-four healthy human subjects (11 females; age = 24.75 ± 2.49 years) participated in an affective perceptual load task that manipulated attention to negative/neutral distractor pictures. fMRI data were collected simultaneously with continuous recording of peripheral arterial blood pressure. A parametric modulation analysis examined the impact of attention and emotion on the relation between neural activation and blood pressure reactivity during the task. When attention was available for processing the distractor pictures, negative pictures resulted in behavioral interference, neural activation in brain regions previously related to emotion, a transient decrease of blood pressure, and a positive correlation between blood pressure response and activation in a network including prefrontal and parietal regions, the amygdala, caudate, and mid-brain. These effects were modulated by attention; behavioral and neural responses to highly negative distractor pictures (compared with neutral pictures) were smaller or diminished, as was the negative blood pressure response when the central task involved high perceptual load. Furthermore, comparing high and low load revealed enhanced activation in frontoparietal regions implicated in attention control. Our results fit theories emphasizing the role of attention in the control of behavioral and neural reactions to irrelevant emotional distracting information. Our findings furthermore extend the function of attention to the control of autonomous reactions associated with negative emotions by showing altered blood pressure reactions to emotional stimuli, the latter being of potential clinical relevance.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4251-4259
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number12
StatePublished - 2014

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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