Like the inner workings of an intricate machine, most of our bodily functions operate with little or no conscious effort. That task falls to the autonomic nervous system, a sort of control system that regulates a wide range of processes, including digestion, heart rate, respiration, urination, and sexual arousal, to name a few. The autonomic nervous system also controls physiological responses to stimuli—the fight-or-flight response, and critical reflex actions like vomiting, swallowing, coughing, and sneezing.
The ability to effectively and accurately test autonomic function allows clinicians to diagnose and treat a range of ailments. Such tests can non-invasively evaluate the severity and distribution of autonomic failure, for example. Beyond these clinical applications, autonomic function testing provides valuable insight into how the body regulates and manages various critical functions and how the autonomic nervous system affects our physical and psychological health.
Autonomic function testing has been employed to examine the impact childhood trauma has on cognitive function as it relates to adolescent depression. A 2020 study published in Development and Psychopathology looked at whether economic deprivation and threat influenced cognitive processes and autonomic nervous system function connected to the severity of depression. Researchers measured study participants’ electrodermal activity (EDA), respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA), and electrocardiogram (ECG) data via an MP150 system. EDA was gathered using a BioNomadix wireless BN-PPGED amplifier set, while ECG and respiration (RSP) recordings were obtained with a BioNomadix wireless BN-RSPEC amplifier set. The study’s findings supported the assumption that a history of trauma and economic deprivation can lead to risk factors for youth depression.
Continuing with the theme of applying autonomic function testing to measure the effects of trauma, a 2021 study publish in Neurobiology of Stress examines autonomic function related to sex differences among individuals with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Skin conductance, blood pressure (BP), heart rate (HR), and high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) were recorded with an MP150 data acquisition system among male and female emergency personnel following trauma exposure. The results, which showed notable sex differences in autonomic functioning among trauma-exposed individuals, have implications for predicting cardiovascular risk in those with PTSD.
These are just a few examples of how autonomic function testing is being used outside of the clinical setting to shed new light on several research areas. Check out Part 1 and Part 2 of our webinars demonstrating how to use BIOPAC equipment and software in autonomic function research.
For additional information on how BIOPAC can assist you with a wide range of research and educational applications, contact your local sales representative.