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J Neurophysiol. 2012 Jul;108(2):453-66. doi: 10.1152/jn.00764.2011. Epub 2012 Apr 18.

Forebrain organization representing baroreceptor gating of somatosensory afferents within the cortical autonomic network.

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School of Kinesiology, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada.


Somatosensory afferents are represented within the cortical autonomic network (CAN). However, the representation of somatosensory afferents, and the consequent cardiovascular effects, may be modified by levels of baroreceptor input. Thus, we examined the cortical regions involved with processing somatosensory inputs during baroreceptor unloading. Neuroimaging sessions (functional magnetic resonance imaging [fMRI]) recorded brain activity during 30 mmHg lower-body negative pressure (LBNP) alone and combined with somatosensory stimulation (LBNP+SS) of the forearm (n = 14). Somatosensory processing was also assessed during increased sympathetic outflow via end-expiratory apnea. Heart rate (HR), blood pressure (BP), cardiac output (Q), and muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) were recorded during the same protocols in a separate laboratory session. SS alone had no effect on any cardiovascular or MSNA variable at rest. Measures of HR, BP, and Q during LBNP were not different compared with LBNP+SS. The rise in MSNA burst frequency was attenuated during LBNP+SS versus LBNP alone (8 vs. 12 bursts/min, respectively, P < 0.05). SS did not affect the change in MSNA during apnea. Activations within the insula and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) observed during LBNP were not seen during LBNP+SS. Anterior insula and ACC activations occurring during apnea were not modified by SS. Thus, the absence of insular and dorsal ACC activity during LBNP+SS along with an attenuation of MSNA burst frequency suggest sympathoinhibitory effects of sensory stimulation during decreased baroreceptor input by a mechanism that includes conjoint insula-dorsal ACC regulation. These findings reveal that the level of baroreceptor input influences the forebrain organization of somatosensory afferents.

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