A big shout out to Luna Jammal Salameh and Veronica Egger, who led this study, from University Regensburg.
We show that heartbeat-induced pressure waves directly modulate the firing of a subset of neurons in the olfactory bulb (and other areas). These neurons increase their firing rate within ~20 ms after heartbeats, mediated by fast mechanosensitive ion channels – most likely Piezo2. This pathway adds a fast transmission line to the interoceptive body-brain axis. The function is a matter of speculation, but we propose that a brain-wide network of “heartbeat sentinel neurons” mediates interoceptive modulation of cognition, mood, and autonomic status.
Blood pressure pulsations modulate central neuronal activity via mechanosensitive ion channels. Jammal Salameh L, Bitzenhofer SH, Hanganu-Opatz IL, Dutschmann M, Egger V. (2023). Science