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Juvenile onset depression alters cardiac autonomic balance in response to psychological and physical challenges
Bylsma LM, Yaroslavsky I, Rottenberg J, Jennings JR, George CJ, Kiss E, Kapornai K, Halas K, Dochnal R, Lefkovics E, Benák I, Baji I, Vetró A and Kovacs M
Biological Psychology, 110:167–174, 2015

Cardiac autonomic balance (CAB) indexes the ratio of parasympathetic to sympathetic activation, and is believed to reflect overall autonomic flexibility in the face of environmental challenges. However, CAB has not been examined in depression.  

Dr. Lauren Bylsma and her colleagues examined changes in CAB and other physiological variables in 179 youth with a history of juvenile onset depression and 161 healthy controls, in response to two psychological (unsolvable puzzle, sad film) and two physical (handgrip,  forehead cold pressor) challenges. 

In repeated measures analyses, controls showed expected reductions in CAB for both the handgrip and unsolvable puzzle, reflecting a shift to sympathetic relative to parasympathetic activation. By contrast, youth with a history of juvenile onset depression showed increased CAB from baseline for both tasks. No effects were found for the forehead cold pressor or sad film tasks, suggesting that CAB differences may arise under conditions requiring greater attentional control or sustained effort.
The results from this study suggest that CAB may be a useful index that reflects the balance and flexibility of the autonomic nervous system to respond to aspects of the environment that may be sensitive to psychophysiological abnormalities reflecting depression vulnerability.  Future analyses will examine if CAB can predict depression symptoms or diagnostic status over time.

Contributors:
Lauren M. Bylsma, PhD, J. Richard Jennings, PhD, Charles J. George, MS and Maria Kovacs, PhD (Department of Psychiatry, University of Pittsburgh)

Ilya Yaroslavsky, PhD (Cleveland State University)

Jonathan Rottenberg, PhD (University of South Florida)

Enikő Kiss, MD, Krisztina Kapornai, MD, PhD, Kitti Halas, Roberta Dochnal , MD, Eszter Lefkovics, István Benák, Ildikó Baji, MD, PhD, and Ágnes Vetró, MD, PhD (University of Szeged, Szeged, Hungary)

This article appears in the journal Biological Psychology.   To view the abstract, click here.