External and internal performance feedback triggers neural and visceral modulations such as reactions in the medial prefrontal cortex and insulae or changes of heart period (HP). The functional coupling of neural and cardiac responses following feedback (cortico-cardiac connectivity) is not well understood. While linear time-lagged within-subjects correlations of single-trial EEG and HP (cardio-electroencephalographic covariance tracing, CECT) indicate a robust negative coupling of EEG magnitude 300 ms after presentation of an external feedback stimulus with subsequent alterations of heart period (the so-called N300H phenomenon), the neurotransmitter systems underlying feedback-evoked cortico-cardiac connectivity are largely unknown. Because it has been shown that acute tryptophan depletion (ATD), attenuating brain serotonin (5-HT), decreases cardiac but not neural correlates of feedback processing, we hypothesized that 5-HT may be involved in feedback-evoked cortico-cardiac connectivity. In a placebo-controlled double-blind cross-over design, 12 healthy male participants received a tryptophan-free amino-acid drink at one session (TRP-) and a balanced amino-acid control-drink (TRP+) on another and twice performed a time-estimation task with feedback presented after each trial. N300H magnitude and plasma tryptophan levels were assessed. Results indicated a robust N300H after TRP+, which was significantly attenuated following TRP-. Moreover, plasma tryptophan levels during TRP+ were correlated with N300H amplitude such that individuals with lower tryptophan levels showed reduced N300H. Together, these findings indicate that 5-HT is important for feedback-induced covariation of cortical and cardiac activity. Because individual differences in anxiety have previously been linked to 5-HT, cortico-cardiac coupling and feedback processing, the present findings may be particularly relevant for futures studies on the relationship between 5-HT and anxiety.
Mueller, E. M., Evers, E. A. T., Wacker, J., & van der Veen, F. (2012). Acute tryptophan depletion attenuates brain-heart coupling following external feedback. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnhum.2012.00077