Neuroimaging Studies of the Neural Correlates of Heart Rate Variability: A Systematic Review

Patrycja S. Matusik, Chuwen Zhong, Paweł T. Matusik, Omar Alomar, Phyllis K. Stein

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Direct and indirect links between brain regions and cardiac function have been reported. We performed a systematic literature review to summarize current knowledge regarding the associations of heart rate variability (HRV) and brain region morphology, activity and connectivity involved in autonomic control at rest in healthy subjects. Both positive and negative correlations of cortical thickness and gray matter volumes of brain structures with HRV were observed. The strongest were found for a cluster located within the cingulate cortex. A decline in HRV, as well as cortical thickness with increasing age, especially in the orbitofrontal cortex were noted. When associations of region-specific brain activity with HRV were examined, HRV correlated most strongly with activity in the insula, cingulate cortex, frontal and prefrontal cortices, hippocampus, thalamus, striatum and amygdala. Furthermore, significant correlations, largely positive, between HRV and brain region connectivity (in the amygdala, cingulate cortex and prefrontal cortex) were observed. Notably, right-sided neural structures may be preferentially involved in heart rate and HRV control. However, the evidence for left hemispheric control of cardiac vagal function has also been reported. Our findings provide support for the premise that the brain and the heart are interconnected by both structural and functional networks and indicate complex multi-level interactions. Further studies of brain–heart associations promise to yield insights into their relationship to health and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1016
JournalJournal of Clinical Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • brain activity
  • brain structures
  • heart rate variability
  • heart–brain connections
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • neuroimaging
  • resting state


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