Electrical stimulation of the midbrain increases heart rate and arterial blood pressure in awake humans

Judith M. Thornton, Tipu Aziz, David Schlugman, David J. Paterson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

88 Citations (SciVal)


Electrical stimulation of the hypothalamus, basal ganglia or pedunculopontine nucleus in decorticate animals results in locomotion and a cardiorespiratory response resembling that seen during exercise. This has led to the hypothesis that parallel activation of cardiorespiratory and locomotor systems from the midbrain could form part of the 'central command' mechanism of exercise. However, the degree to which subcortical structures play a role in cardiovascular activation in awake humans has not been established. We studied the effects on heart rate (HR) and mean arterial blood pressure (MAP) of electrically stimulating the thalamus and basal ganglia in awake humans undergoing neurosurgery for movement disorders (n = 13 Parkinson's disease, n = 1 myoclonic dystonia, n = 1 spasmodic torticollis). HR and MAP increased during high frequency (> 90 Hz) electrical stimulation of the thalamus (HR 5 ± 3 beats min-1, P = 0.002, MAP 4 ± 3 mmHg, P = 0.05, n = 9), subthalamic nucleus (HR 5 ± 3 beats min-1, P = 0.002, MAP 5 ± 3 mmHg, P = 0.006, n = 8) or substantia nigra (HR 6 ± 3 beats min-1, P = 0.001, MAP 5 ± 2 mmHg, P = 0.005, n = 8). This was accompanied by the facilitation of movement, but without the movement itself. Stimulation of the internal globus pallidus did not increase cardiovascular variables but did facilitate movement. Low frequency (< 20 Hz) stimulation of any site did not affect cardiovascular variables or movement. Electrical stimulation of the midbrain in awake humans can cause a modest increase in cardiovascular variables that is not dependent on movement feedback from exercising muscles. The relationship between this type of response and that occurring during actual exercise is unclear, but it indicates that subcortical command could be involved in 'parallel activation' of the locomotor and cardiovascular systems and thus contribute to the neurocircuitry of 'central command'.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)615-621
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 01 Mar 2002


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