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J Comp Neurol. 2019 Jun 6. doi: 10.1002/cne.24726. [Epub ahead of print]

Higher nicotinic receptor availability in the cingulo-insular network is associated with lower cardiac parasympathetic tone.

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Faculty of Medicine, Geneva University, Geneva, Switzerland.
Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Division, Department of Medical Imaging, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.
Division of Clinical Epidemiology, Geneva University Hospitals, Geneva, Switzerland.
Centre d'Imagerie Rive Droite, Geneva, Switzerland.
Department of Surgical Sciences, Radiology, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden.
Departement of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Intensive Care, Department of Basic Neurosciences, Geneva University, Geneva, Switzerland.
EEG and Epilepsy Unit, Department of Neurology, University Hospitals of Geneva, Geneva, Switzerland.


The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) and the anterior insula (AI) constitute the salience network and form as well the major cortical components of the central autonomic nervous system. These two cortical regions have the highest density in α4β2 nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs) within the whole cortex.The aim of the study was to test the association between nAChRs density/availability in the salience network and the heart rate variability in humans. We selected subjects from a previous positron emission tomography (PET) imaging study in epilepsy with 18F-FA-85380, a specific marker for α4β2 nAChRs, including 10 healthy controls, 10 patients with nonlesional focal epilepsy and 8 patients with idiopathic generalized epilepsy. Participants underwent a 10 min-resting electrocardiogram as they were lying still in a semi-supine position while watching an emotionally neutral video. We tested the association between parasympathetic tone and the regional brain nAChR availability, as measured by 18F-F-A-85380 binding potential (BP), using linear regression. We observed an association between higher nAChRs availability in the bilateral dACC and the right dorsal AI/frontal operculum and a lower parasympathetic tone, without significant effect of the clinical group on this relation. Our study is the first one to show a neurochemical correlate to the parasympathetic role of the anterior cingulate cortex and the AI. The nicotinic system, which plays a major role in the peripheral autonomic nervous system intervening both in the parasympathetic and sympathetic chains, seems also to play a role in the central autonomic nervous system.


PET; RRID:SCR_001622; RRID:SCR_001905; RRID:SCR_002823; RRID:SCR_007037; anterior cingulate cortex; heart rate variability; insula; nicotinic receptors


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