Heart-brain communication: This is how the brain and heart exchange

Heart-brain communication: This is how the brain and heart exchange

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Heart and brain in constant exchange

Our heart and brain continuously communicate with each other. The brain reacts to the heart and the heart to the brain. A German research team shows in a current study how this constant exchange takes place.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the Berlin School of Mind and Brain deciphered how communication between the heart and the brain works. The research results were recently presented in the renowned journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)”.

Changed perception during a cardiac cycle

A cardiac cycle consists of a contraction phase (systole) and a relaxation phase (diastole). In the contraction phase, blood is pumped from the ventricles into the circulation, while the ventricles fill with blood again in the relaxation phase. It is already known from previous studies that perception changes during the course of a cardiac cycle.

The heart and brain agree

Our brain continuously receives signals from the body and the environment. Although we are mostly not aware of internal physical processes such as the heartbeat, these signals can influence our perception. To prevent the brain from responding to the regularly recurring heartbeat and the associated changes, a crucial part of brain activity is suppressed during the contraction phase, the researchers explain.

Decreased sensation of sensation during systole

The current study shows for the first time how the heartbeat and the brain modulate conscious perception. The researchers identified two different heartbeat-related influences on conscious perception. In this way, stimuli are recognized less frequently during the contraction phase and localized correctly than in the relaxation phase. The study thus reveals a mechanism that links the heart, brain and perception.

This control of the transition from perception to consciousness is referred to in medicine as the “P300 component”. This component is designed to ensure that the brain is not disturbed with every pulse. At the same time, this mechanism also seems to cause external stimuli to be perceived less during systole - especially if the stimuli are weak, such as a tingling sensation on the finger.

Heart and brain are inseparable

The exact background for these revealed mechanisms has not yet been sufficiently understood. Study leader Arno Villringer sees this as a possible explanation as to why people often develop a heart after a stroke or why people with heart diseases are often limited in their cognitive abilities at the same time. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Esra Al, Fivos Iliopoulos, Norman Forschack, Till Nierhaus, u.a .: Heart – brain interactions shape somatosensory perception and evoked potentials; in: PNAS, 2020,

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