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Hypertension. 2007 Jan;49(1):134-40. Epub 2006 Nov 13.

Heightened functional neural activation to psychological stress covaries with exaggerated blood pressure reactivity.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.


Individuals who show exaggerated blood pressure reactions to psychological stressors are at increased risk for hypertension, atherosclerosis, and stroke. We tested whether individuals who show exaggerated stressor-induced blood pressure reactivity also show heightened stressor-induced neural activation in brain areas involved in controlling the cardiovascular system. In a functional MRI study, 46 postmenopausal women (mean age: 68.04; SD: 1.35 years) performed a standardized Stroop color-word interference task that served as a stressor to increase blood pressure. Across individuals, a larger task-induced rise in blood pressure covaried with heightened and correlated patterns of activation in brain areas implicated previously in stress-related cardiovascular control: the perigenual and posterior cingulate cortex, bilateral prefrontal cortex, anterior insula, and cerebellum. Entered as a set in hierarchical regression analyses, activation values in these brain areas uniquely predicted the magnitude of task-induced changes in systolic (DeltaR(2)=0.54; P<0.001) and diastolic (DeltaR(2)=0.27; P<0.05) blood pressure after statistical control for task accuracy and subjective reports of task stress. Heightened stressor-induced activation of cingulate, prefrontal, insular, and cerebellar brain areas may represent a functional neural phenotype that characterizes individuals who are prone to show exaggerated cardiovascular reactivity.

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