Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 223, Issue 2, pp 727–737 | Cite as

Brain structural concomitants of resting state heart rate variability in the young and old: evidence from two independent samples

  • Hyun Joo Yoo
  • Julian F. Thayer
  • Steven Greening
  • Tae-Ho Lee
  • Allison Ponzio
  • Jungwon Min
  • Michiko Sakaki
  • Lin Nga
  • Mara MatherEmail author
  • Julian Koenig
Original Article


Previous research has shown associations between brain structure and resting state high-frequency heart rate variability (HF HRV). Age affects both brain structure and HF HRV. Therefore, we sought to examine the relationship between brain structure and HF HRV as a function of age. Data from two independent studies were used for the present analysis. Study 1 included 19 older adults (10 males, age range 62–78 years) and 19 younger adults (12 males, age range 19–37). Study 2 included 23 older adults (12 males; age range 55–75) and 27 younger adults (17 males; age range 18–34). The root-mean-square of successive RR-interval differences (RMSSD) from ECG recordings was used as time-domain measure of HF HRV. MRI scans were performed on a 3.0-T Siemens Magnetom Trio scanner. Cortical reconstruction and volumetric segmentation were performed with the Freesurfer image analysis suite, including 12 regions as regions of interests (ROI). Zero-order and partial correlations were used to assess the correlation of RMSSD with cortical thickness in selected ROIs. Lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) cortical thickness was significantly associated with RMSSD. Further, both studies, in line with previous research, showed correlations between RMSSD and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) cortical thickness. Meta-analysis on adjusted correlation coefficients from individual studies confirmed an association of RMSSD with the left rostral ACC and the left lateral OFC. Future longitudinal studies are necessary to trace individual trajectories in the association of HRV and brain structure across aging.


Heart rate variability Vagal activity Cortical thickness Age Brain structure 



JK is supported by Physician-Scientist-Fellowship provided by the Medical School, University of Heidelberg, Germany. JK acknowledges the financial support through a Post-Doctoral Scholarship provided by the Daimler and Benz Foundation (Ladenburg, Germany) and the Thrasher Research Fund Early Career Award provided by the Thrasher Research Fund (Salt Lake City, UT, USA). The research studies were funded by NIA R01AG025340. Michiko Sakaki received a fellowship by the European Commision PCIG13-GA-2013-618600, JSPS 16H05959.

Compliance with ethical standards

Ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

429_2017_1519_MOESM1_ESM.docx (48 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 47 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hyun Joo Yoo
    • 1
  • Julian F. Thayer
    • 2
  • Steven Greening
    • 3
  • Tae-Ho Lee
    • 4
  • Allison Ponzio
    • 1
  • Jungwon Min
    • 1
  • Michiko Sakaki
    • 5
  • Lin Nga
    • 1
  • Mara Mather
    • 1
    Email author
  • Julian Koenig
    • 2
    • 6
  1. 1.Emotion and Cognition LabUniversity of Southern CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyThe Ohio State UniversityColumbusUSA
  3. 3.Department of Psychology, Cognitive and Brain SciencesLouisiana State UniversityBaton RougeUSA
  4. 4.Department of Psychology and NeuroscienceUniversity of North CarolinaChapel HillUSA
  5. 5.School of Psychology and Clinical Language SciencesUniversity of ReadingReadingUK
  6. 6.Section for Translational Psychobiology in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Centre for Psychosocial MedicineUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

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