Cardiovascular and autonomic reactivity to psychological stress: Neurophysiological substrates and links to cardiovascular disease

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, Baylor University, Waco, TX, USA. Electronic address:
  • Department of Psychology, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA, USA.
  • School of Sport, Exercise, and Rehabiliation Sciences, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, West Midlands, UK.


Psychologically stressful experiences evoke changes in cardiovascular physiology that may influence risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD). But what are the neural circuits and intermediate physiological pathways that link stressful experiences to cardiovascular changes that might in turn confer disease risk? This question is important because it has broader implications for our understanding of the neurophysiological pathways that link stressful and other psychological experiences to physical health. This review highlights selected findings from brain imaging studies of stressor-evoked cardiovascular reactivity and CVD risk. Converging evidence across these studies complements animal models and patient lesion studies to suggest that a network of cortical, limbic, and brainstem areas for central autonomic and physiological control are important for generating and regulating stressor-evoked cardiovascular reactivity via visceromotor and viscerosensory mechanisms. Emerging evidence further suggests that these brain areas may play a role in stress-related CVD risk, specifically by their involvement in mediating metabolically-dysregulated or extreme stressor-evoked cardiovascular reactions. Contextually, the research reviewed here offers an example of how brain imaging and health neuroscience methods can be integrated to address open and mechanistic questions about the neurophysiological pathways linking psychological stress and physical health.


Original languageEnglish
JournalAutonomic Neuroscience
Early online date16 Mar 2017
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Mar 2017


  • Cardiovascular disease, Central autonomic network, Functional connectivity, Stressor-evoked cardiovascular reactivity, Visceral prediction errors