Central nervous system signatures of affect in asthma: Associations with emotion-induced bronchoconstriction, airway inflammation, and asthma control

Thomas Ritz, Juliet L. Kroll, Sheenal V. Patel, Justin R. Chen, Uma S. Yezhuvath, Sina Aslan, David A. Khan, Amy E. Pinkham, David Rosenfield, E. Sherwood Brown

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The effects of asthma on affect have been noted for some time, but little is known about associated brain processes. We therefore examined whether emotioninduced bronchoconstriction, airway inflammation, and asthma control are related to specific patterns of brain activity during processing negative affective stimuli. Fifteen adults with asthma viewed alternating blocks of distressing film clips (negative condition), affectively neutral film clips (neutral condition), and a crosshair image (baseline condition) while undergoing blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) functional MRI (fMRI). Block-design fMRI analysis evaluated the BOLD response to "negative-baseline" and "neutral-baseline" contrasts. Airway response to these film clips was also assessed with impulse oscillometry in a separate session. Measures of airway inflammation [fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FENO)] and asthma control [Asthma Control Questionnaire (ACQ)] were additionally obtained. A whole brain voxel-based regression analysis of contrast maps was performed against respiratory resistance increase during negative and neutral films, FENO, and ACQ. Peak airway obstruction to negative affective stimulation was associated with stronger activation of the anterior and middle cingulate gyrus, including the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC). Stronger airway inflammation and lower asthma control were associated with reduced activation to negative stimuli in the superior frontal gyrus, middle cingulate gyrus, and supplementary motor area. Activation of the dACC in negativeaffect- induced airway obstruction could be part of an integrated defensive response to critical environmental change. In addition, reduced frontal and limbic activation during processing of negative affect may reflect consequences of pathophysiological processes for CNS functioning. NEW & NOTEWORTHY This functional magnetic resonance imaging study shows, for the first time, that the degree of airway constriction due to negative affective stimuli in asthma is associated with stronger response to these stimuli in the dorsal anterior and middle cingulate cortex. Asthma patients with stronger airway inflammation and reduced asthma control also show reduced activation in a number of cortical and subcortical areas relevant for affective processing and breathing control.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1725-1736
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of applied physiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019


  • Affect-induced bronchoconstriction affect
  • Airway inflammation
  • Asthma
  • Asthma control
  • Cingulate cortex
  • Functional magnetic resonance imaging
  • Respiratory resistance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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