Subjecting elite athletes to inspiratory breathing load reveals behavioral and neural signatures of optimal performers in extreme environments.
ABSTRACT It is unclear whether and how elite athletes process physiological or psychological challenges differently than healthy comparison subjects. In general, individuals optimize exercise level as it relates to differences between expected and experienced exertion, which can be conceptualized as a body prediction error. The process of computing a body prediction error involves the insular cortex, which is important for interoception, i.e. the sense of the physiological condition of the body. Thus, optimal performance may be related to efficient minimization of the body prediction error. We examined the hypothesis that elite athletes, compared to control subjects, show attenuated insular cortex activation during an aversive interoceptive challenge.
Elite adventure racers (n = 10) and healthy volunteers (n = 11) performed a continuous performance task with varying degrees of a non-hypercapnic breathing load while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. The results indicate that (1) non-hypercapnic inspiratory breathing load is an aversive experience associated with a profound activation of a distributed set of brain areas including bilateral insula, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulated; (2) adventure racers relative to comparison subjects show greater accuracy on the continuous performance task during the aversive interoceptive condition; and (3) adventure racers show an attenuated right insula cortex response during and following the aversive interoceptive condition of non-hypercapnic inspiratory breathing load.
These findings support the hypothesis that elite athletes during an aversive interoceptive condition show better performance and an attenuated insular cortex activation during the aversive experience. Interestingly, differential modulation of the right insular cortex has been found previously in elite military personnel and appears to be emerging as an important brain system for optimal performance in extreme environments.
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ABSTRACT: The neural control of the subcommissural organ (SCO) has been partially characterized. The best known input is an important serotonergic innervation in the SCO of several mammals. In the rat, this innervation comes from raphe nuclei and appears to exert an inhibitory effect on the SCO activity. A GABAergic innervation has also been shown in the SCO of the rat and frog Rana perezi. In the rat, GABA and the enzyme glutamate decarboxylase are involved in the SCO innervation. GABA is taken up by some secretory ependymocytes and nerve terminals, coexisting with serotonin in a population of synaptic terminals. Dopamine, noradrenaline, and different neuropeptides such as LH-RH, vasopressin, vasotocin, oxytocin, mesotocin, substance P, alpha-neoendorphin, and galanin are also involved in SCO innervation. In the bovine SCO, an important number of fibers containing tyrosine hydroxylase are present, indicating that in this species dopamine and/or noradrenaline-containing fibers are an important neural input. In Rana perezi, a GABAergic innervation of pineal origin could explain the influence of light on the SCO secretory activity in frogs. A general conclusion is that the SCO cells receive neural inputs from different neurotransmitter systems. In addition, the possibility that neurotransmitters and neuropeptides present in the cerebrospinal fluid may also affect the SCO activity, is discussed.Microscopy Research and Technique 04/2001; 52(5):520-33. · 1.79 Impact Factor
Article: Attentional distraction reduces the affective but not the sensory dimension of perceived dyspnea.[show abstract] [hide abstract]
ABSTRACT: The perception of dyspnea shows many similarities to the perception of pain. Both are multidimensional processes, which are not only influenced by sensory input but also by nonsensory factors like attention. Recent research has suggested that attentional distraction might reduce the perception of dyspnea but results are conflicting. Furthermore, the specific impact of attentional distraction on the distinct dimensions of perceived dyspnea has not been studied yet. Therefore, the present study examined the specific impact of changes in the attentional focus on the sensory and affective dimension of perceived dyspnea. Dyspnea was induced in forty-four healthy volunteers (mean age: 27.7 years, range: 18-47 years) by breathing through an inspiratory resistive load (3.57 kPa/L/s), while attention was directed either to breathing or distracted by reading texts. Inspiratory time (T(i)) and breathing frequency (f) were measured continuously. After each condition the experienced intensity (i.e., sensory dimension) and unpleasantness (i.e., affective dimension) of dyspnea were rated on separate visual analog scales (VAS), presented in randomized order. ANOVAs showed that attentional distraction during loaded breathing reduced the perceived unpleasantness of dyspnea (P<0.05), while the perceived intensity of dyspnea as well as T(i) and f remained unchanged. The results show that attentional distraction reduces the affective, but not the sensory dimension of induced dyspnea in healthy volunteers. Future studies are needed to clarify whether attentional distraction can effectively be used as intervention technique for reducing the unpleasant aspects of dyspnea in different patients groups.Respiratory Medicine 04/2007; 101(4):839-44. · 2.47 Impact Factor