Michiko Sakaki, Hyun Joo Yoo, Lin Nga, Tae-Ho Lee, Julian F. Thayer, and Mara Mather
The ability to regulate emotion is crucial to promote well-being. Evidence suggests that the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) and adjacent anterior cingulate (ACC) modulate amygdala activity during emotion regulation. Yet less is known about whether the amygdala-mPFC circuit is linked with regulation of the autonomic nervous system and whether the relationship differs across the adult lifespan. The current study tested the hypothesis that heart rate variability (HRV) reflects the strength of mPFC-amygdala interaction across younger and older adults. We recorded participants’ heart rates at baseline and examined whether baseline HRV was associated with amygdala-mPFC functional connectivity during rest. We found that higher HRV was associated with stronger functional connectivity between the amygdala and the mPFC during rest across younger and older adults. In addition to this age-invariant pattern, there was an age-related change, such that greater HRV was linked with stronger functional connectivity between amygdala and ventrolateral PFC (vlPFC) in younger than in older adults. These results are in line with past evidence that vlPFC is involved in emotion regulation especially in younger adults. Taken together, our results support the neurovisceral integration model and suggest that higher heart rate variability is associated with neural mechanisms that support successful emotional regulation across the adult lifespan.