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Brain linked to Takotsubo syndrome in heart

Tuesday March 5th, 2019

Parts of the brain that process emotions could be linked to the onset of Takotsubo syndrome, the so-called “broken heart syndrome”, it is revealed today.

Researchers in Zurich, Switzerland, report that the regions of the brain responsible for processing emotions and controlling heartbeat, breathing and digestion, do not communicate with each other as well in people who have Takotsubo syndrome (TTS) compared to healthy people.

They say their findings, which are published in today’s edition of European Heart Journal, suggest that the reduced brain functions in the central nervous system may be part of the mechanism involved and they are linked with the onset of TTS in response to stressful or emotional triggers.

The research team, which comprised neuroscientists and cardiologists, carried out MRI brain scans to examine the amygdala, hippocampus and cingulate gyrus, in 15 TTS patients taken from the InterTAK Registry, established at the University Hospital Zurich, Switzerland, in 2011. These were compared with scans from 39 healthy people.

Professor Christian Templin, principle investigator at the Registry and professor of cardiology at University Hospital Zurich, said: “We found that TTS patients had decreased communication between brain regions associated with emotional processing and the autonomic nervous system, which controls the unconscious workings of the body, compared to the healthy people.

“For the first time, we have identified a correlation between alterations to the functional activity of specific brain regions and TTS, which strongly supports the idea that the brain is involved in the underlying mechanism of TTS.

“Emotional and physical stress are strongly associated with TTS, and it has been hypothesised that the overstimulation of the autonomic nervous system may lead to TTS events.”

Co-author, Dr Jelena Ghadri, a senior research associate at the University Hospital Zurich and co-principle investigator of the InterTAK Registry, called for further studies to be carried out to establish if it is a causal relationship.

“We hope this study offers new starting points for studying TTS in terms of understanding that it much more than ‘broken heart’ syndrome and clearly involves interactions between the brain and the heart, which are still not fully understood.

“We are at the beginning of learning more about this complex disorder. Hopefully, one day new findings can be translated into developments in preventive, therapeutic and diagnostic strategies to improve patient care.”

Templin C, Hänggi J, Klein C et al. Fast track brief communication: altered limbic and autonomic processing supports brain-heart axis in Takotsubo syndrome. European Heart Journal 5 March 2019; doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehz068

Tags: Brain & Neurology | Europe | Heart Health

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