Analysis of Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and Directed Information Flow between Brain and Body Indicate Different Management Strategies of fMRI-Related Anxiety

Carl-Ludwig-Institute of Physiology, University of Leipzig, 04103 Leipzig, Germany
Rassler, Beate;
Nalecz Institute of Biocybernetics and Biomedical Engineering, Polish Academy of Sciences, 02-109 Warsaw, Poland;
Blinowska, Katarzyna;
Faculty of Physics, University of Warsaw, 02-093 Warsaw, Poland;
Kaminski, Maciej;
Institute of Neural Engineering, Graz University of Technology, 8010 Graz, Austria;
Pfurtscheller, Gert

Background: Respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) denotes decrease of cardiac beat-to-beat intervals (RRI) during inspiration and RRI increase during expiration, but an inverse pattern (termed negative RSA) was also found in healthy humans with elevated anxiety. It was detected using wave-by-wave analysis of cardiorespiratory rhythms and was considered to reflect a strategy of anxiety management involving the activation of a neural pacemaker. Results were consistent with slow breathing, but contained uncertainty at normal breathing rates (0.2–0.4 Hz). Objectives and methods: We combined wave-by-wave analysis and directed information flow analysis to obtain information on anxiety management at higher breathing rates. We analyzed cardiorespiratory rhythms and blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals from the brainstem and cortex in 10 healthy fMRI participants with elevated anxiety. Results: Three subjects with slow respiratory, RRI, and neural BOLD oscillations showed 57 ± 26% negative RSA and significant anxiety reduction by 54 ± 9%. Six participants with breathing rate of ~0.3 Hz showed 41 ± 16% negative RSA and weaker anxiety reduction. They presented significant information flow from RRI to respiration and from the middle frontal cortex to the brainstem, which may result from respiration-entrained brain oscillations, indicating another anxiety management strategy. Conclusion: The two analytical approaches applied here indicate at least two different anxiety management strategies in healthy subjects.


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