October 31, 2020

The influence of heart rate variability biofeedback on cardiac regulation and functional brain connectivity

BackgroundHeart rate variability (HRV) biofeedback has a beneficial impact on perceived stress and emotion regulation. However, its impact on brain function is still unclear. In this study, we aimed to investigate the effect of an 8-week HRV-biofeedback intervention on functional brain connectivity in healthy subjects.

MethodsHRV biofeedback was carried out in five sessions per week, including four at home and one in our lab. A control group played jump nrun games instead of the training. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was conducted before and after the intervention in both groups. To compute resting state functional connectivity (RSFC), we defined regions of interest in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (VMPFC) and a total of 260 independent anatomical regions for network-based analysis. Changes of RSFC of the VMPFC to other brain regions were compared between groups. Temporal changes of HRV during the resting state recording were correlated to dynamic functional connectivity of the VMPFC.

ResultsFirst, we corroborated the role of the VMPFC in cardiac autonomic regulation. We found that temporal changes of HRV were correlated to dynamic changes of prefrontal connectivity, especially to the middle cingulate cortex, left anterior insula, right amygdala, supplementary motor area, dorsal and ventral lateral prefrontal regions. The biofeedback group showed a drop in heart rate by 5.5 beats/min and an increased RMSSD as a measure of HRV by 10.1ms (33%) after the intervention. Functional connectivity of the VMPFC increased mainly to the right anterior insula, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex after biofeedback intervention when compared to changes in the control group. Network-based statistic showed that biofeedback had an influence on a broad functional network of brain regions.

ConclusionOur results show that increased vagal modulation induced by HRV-biofeedback is accompanied by changes in functional brain connectivity during resting state.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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