A Neural Vulnerability to Hypertension

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Science  15 Feb 2008:
Vol. 319, Issue 5865, pp. 878-879
DOI: 10.1126/science.319.5865.878d

Rising blood pressure is a typical stress response—usually a healthy and adaptive reaction to dangerous situations that increases one's chances of survival. However, individuals with excessive stressor-evoked blood pressure increases are at risk for developing cardiovascular disease later in life.

In an fMRI study of undergraduates charged with choosing the word that names the color of a target word (a Stroop color-word interference task), Gianaros et al. connect stressor processing with the brainstem cardiovascular control mechanisms regulating blood pressure. People with higher stressor-evoked blood pressure reactivity displayed more activation of the amygdala, especially in the dorsal part that contains the central nucleus. Individuals showing greater blood pressure reactivity also had a lower amygdala gray matter volume, which itself predicted greater amygdala activation. In addition, greater stressor- evoked blood pressure reactivity was correlated with stronger functional connectivity between the amygdala and an area in the brainstem, called the pons, which is critical for blood pressure control, as well the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC). As in the amygdala, greater activation of the pACC was associated with lower pACC gray matter volume. These results indicate a role for the amygdala and some of its projection areas in mediating individual differences in autonomic stress responses and hence vulnerability to psychological stressors. — PRS

J. Neurosci. 28, 990 (2008).

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