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Human thermoregulation from the autonomic perspective

Published:February 21, 2016DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.autneu.2016.02.007
      Human thermoregulation is a complex, integrative, and ultimately autonomic physiological phenomenon. The goal of this special issue of Autonomic Neuroscience: Basic and Clinical is to give clinicians and scientists a set of brief updates regarding integrative physiological mechanisms of thermoregulation relevant to humans. In terms of physiological thermoregulation, three general categories of environments exist: cold, thermoneutral and warm/hot. In cold environments, thermoregulatory responses are oriented towards conservation of heat (cutaneous vasoconstriction) and heat generation (shivering and non-shivering thermogenesis) (
      • Castellani John W.
      • Young Andrew J.
      Human physiological responses to cold exposure: Acute responses and acclimatization to prolonged exposure.
      ,
      • Morrison S.F.
      • Madden C.J.
      Central nervous system regulation of brown adipose tissue.
      ). In thermoneutral environments, by definition, very little active regulation of body temperature is required, as heat production equals heat dissipation and body temperature remains relatively constant. In humans, the minor adjustments in heat dissipation required in such environments are accomplished by small changes in skin blood flow (
      • Savage M.V.
      • Brengelmann G.L.
      Control of skin blood flow in the neutral zone of human body temperature regulation.
      ). In warm or hot environments, the emphasis is on heat dissipation, which occurs by two major mechanisms, cutaneous vasodilation (in which increased skin blood flow increases convective heat transfer from the core to the periphery) and sweating (in which evaporative heat loss cools the skin and increases heat transfer from the surface of the skin to the environment) (
      • Charkoudian N.
      Mechanisms and modifiers of reflex induced cutaneous vasodilation and vasoconstriction in humans.
      ,
      • Johnson J.M.
      • Minson C.T.
      • Kellogg Jr., D.L.
      Cutaneous vasodilator and vasoconstrictor mechanisms in temperature regulation.
      ,
      • Smith Caroline J.
      • Johnson John M.
      Responses to hyperthermia. Optimizing heat dissipation by convection and evaporation: Neural control of skin blood flow and sweating in humans.
      ).

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