A Search for the Cortical Autonomic Network in Rodents and Humans

      Studies in the rat and cat have been particularly useful for determining the pathways and the sites in the forebrain and cortex that are responsible for autonomic control. Tract tracing and electrophysiological approaches have demonstrated that there is a viscerotopically organized pathway with the first site of termination in the nucleus of the solitary tract with subsequent relays in the parabrachial nucleus and the ventroposterior parvocellular nucleus of the thalamus before final visceral afferent inputs in the insular cortex. Other animal investigations have indicated that the infralimbic cortex in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex could be considered a visceral motor region cortical site. Neuroimaging research in humans supports the notion of a network that integrates autonomic responses comprised insular and medial prefrontal cortex. However, most fMRI studies demonstrate increases in the anterior cingulate cortex related to autonomic responses. Both animal and human studies demonstrate lateralization in the cerebral cortex for autonomic control. In humans it is possible to study cardiovascular reactivity in response to mental stress. These results demonstrate differences in the cortical networks for cardiovascular control in cardiovascular reactors compared to non-reactors to mental stress.
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