Top-down regulation in the human brain and anatomical connections between the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and specific catecholamine-related regions have been well-studied. However, the way in which the PFC modulates downstream neuro-networks in terms of serotonin and the autonomic nervous system (ANS) by variation in the level of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is still unclear. We recruited sixty-seven healthy subjects. Serotonin transporter (SERT) availability was examined by SPECT with [123I]ADAM analysis; heart rate variability (HRV) testing was performed, and the BDNF level was measured. The Wisconsin card-sorting test (WCST), which assesses PFC activation, was also conducted. The interactions of BDNF level and SERT availability were significant in relation to the HRV indexes of low frequency, high frequency, total power, and mean heart rate range. Moderate to significant positive correlations between SERT availability and the above-mentioned HRV indexes existed only in subjects with a low BDNF level. Furthermore, in the low BDNF level group, only those with high WCST perseveration errors or low category completions exhibited significant positive correlations between SERT availability and HRV indexes. A lower BDNF level and poorer PFC function might modulate the synergistic effects of serotonergic and ANS systems in order to maintain brain physiological and psychological homeostasis.
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