Australian researchers have discovered a new way to stop the brain from sending stress signals that raise the heart rate.
Dr Eugene Nalivaiko from the University of Newcastle and his colleagues are studying ways to manage stress-induced cardiac arrhythmias - abnormal electrical activity in the heart caused by stress.
The team has used a specific class of drugs called serotonin-1A agonists to suppress stress signals, which travel from the brain to the spinal cord and then to the heart.
The signals can cause cardiac arrhythmias and sudden death. An estimated three million people die each year from sudden cardiac death worldwide, but it is not known how many of those deaths are due to stress-induced arrhythmias.
"Currently, the only drugs used to prevent heart overactivity are beta-blockers, which are not effective in many patients," Dr Nalivaiko said.
"The long-term use of beta-blockers may also cause side-effects. Our research goes a long way in developing an effective alternative to beta-blockers that can help prevent stress-induced heart conditions."
These and other stress-related issues were discussed by more than 60 neuroscientists from across the world at a major neuroscience conference in Newcastle earlier this week.
The conference was supported by the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) and the University of Newcastle. Dr Nalivaiko works in the School of Biomedical Sciences and Pharmacy in the Faculty of Health at the University of Newcastle, and in the Priority Research Centre for Brain and Mental Health Research. He researches in collaboration with HMRI's Cardiovascular Program.