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Heartbeat and Somatosensory Perception

By Esra Al, Fivos Iliopoulos, Vadim V. Nikulin, Arno Villringer

Posted 30 Dec 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.29.424693

Our perception of the external world is influenced by internal bodily signals. For example, we recently showed that timing of stimulation along the cardiac cycle and spontaneous fluctuations of heartbeat-evoked potential (HEP) amplitudes influence somatosensory perception and the associated neural processing (Al et al., 2020). While cardiac phase affected detection sensitivity and late components of the somatosensory-evoked potentials (SEPs), HEP amplitudes affected detection criterion and both early and late SEP components. In a new EEG study, we investigate whether these results are replicable in a modified paradigm, which includes two succeeding temporal intervals. Only in one of these intervals, subjects received a weak electrical finger stimulation and then performed a yes/no and two-interval forced-choice detection task. Our results confirm the previously reported cardiac cycle and prestimulus HEP effects on somatosensory perception and evoked potentials. In addition, we obtain two new findings: A source analysis in these two studies shows that the increased likelihood of conscious perception goes along with HEP fluctuations in parietal and posterior cingulate regions, known to play important roles in interoceptive processes. Furthermore, HEP amplitudes are shown to decrease when subjects engage in the somatosensory task compared to their resting state condition. Our findings are consistent with the view that HEP amplitudes are a marker of interoceptive (versus exteroceptive) attention and provide a neural underpinning for this view.

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