Neural correlates of physiological hyperresponsiveness to stress in essential hypertension – an fMRI study

“Psychoneurobiological mechanisms in essential hypertension and coronary heart disease (CHD)” (Project 2: Imaging study)

Project leader: Petra Wirtz
Project duration: 2011 – 2017
Swiss National Science Foundation (PP00P1-128565/1 to PW)

Research conducted in the past years has shown that there are several stress-causing mechanisms (e.g. at work) that can lead to and aggravate cardiovascular diseases (CVD) as well as the underlying process of arteriosclerosis. In earlier studies, we found that stress leads to increased levels of stress hormones, to increased coagulation, increased levels of blood lipids and changes in inflammation responsiveness. This seems to be more pronounced in patients with hypertension than in healthy individuals. Various imaging studies of individuals with normal blood pressure have demonstrated that certain areas of the brain are much more active during some physiological responses to stress. However, the brain activity of hypertensive patients before and after a stressful event has never been examined before.
In this study, we use functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at the Inselspital Bern to find out if the brain activity of hypertensive individuals exposed to a stressful situation differs from that of individuals with normal blood pressure. We also intend to verify whether increased physiological responsiveness (recorded via stress hormones, blood lipids, coagulation and inflammation activity before and after a stressful event) in hypertensive individuals is related to increased activity in particular areas of their brains.
The results will deliver important new insights for the development of interdisciplinary pre- and intervention strategies to combat hypertension.