Involvement of the brain-heart axis in the link between PTSD and cardiovascular disease

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date



Depression and anxiety




PTSD; autonomic; brain-heart axis; cardiovascular disease; inflammation; sex


Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has long been associated with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). A number of mechanisms have been implicated to underlie this brain-heart axis relationship, such as altered functioning of the autonomic nervous system and increased systemic inflammation. While neural alterations have repeatedly been observed in PTSD, they are rarely considered in the PTSD-CVD link. The brain-heart axis is a pathway connecting frontal and limbic brain regions to the brainstem and periphery via the autonomic nervous system and it may be a promising model for understanding CVD risk in PTSD given its overlap with PTSD neural deficits. We first provide a summary of the primary mechanisms implicated in the association between PTSD and CVD. We then review the brain-heart axis and its relevance to PTSD, as well as findings from PTSD trials demonstrating that a number of PTSD treatments have effects on areas of the brain-heart axis. Finally, we discuss sex considerations in the PTSD-CVD link. A critical next step in this study is to determine if PTSD treatments that affect the brain-heart axis (e.g., brain stimulation that improves autonomic function) also reduce the risk of CVD.


Pharmacology and Physiology