Medical Research

The Brain Circuitry and Heart Rate Variability Reflections of Nausea

Kristen Sparrow • January 30, 2012

This is a study looking at functional MRI and HRV underlying the autonomic nervous system response to nausea. This is of interest to because nausea is one of the best well studied conditions where acupuncture helps. Given my thesis that lowering sympathetic tone, (lowering the stress response) is an important aspect of acupuncture treatment, this study is pertinent. For more information on my practice, please click here.

A combined HRV-fMRI approach to assess cortical control of cardiovagal modulation by motion sickness.
Conf Proc IEEE Eng Med Biol Soc. 2011 Aug;2011:2825-8.
Kim J, Napadow V, Kuo B, Barbieri R.


Nausea is a commonly occurring symptom typified by epigastric discomfort with the urge to vomit. To date, the brain circuitry underlying the autonomic nervous system response to nausea has not been fully understood. Functional MRI (fMRI), together with a point process adaptive recursive algorithm for computation of the high-frequency (HF) index of heart rate variability (HRV) was combined to evaluate the brain circuitry underlying autonomic nervous system response to nausea. Alone, the point process analysis revealed increasing sympathetic and decreasing parasympathetic response during nausea with significant increased heart rate (HR) and decreased HF. The combined HRV-fMRI analysis demonstrated that the fMRI signal in the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) and pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pgACC), regions of higher cortical functions and emotion showed a negative correlation at the baseline and a positive correlation during nausea. Overall, our findings confirm a sympathovagal shift (toward sympathetic) during nausea, which was related to brain activity in regions associated with emotion and higher cognitive function.