OHSU researchers reveal the science of shivering

December 17, 2007

PORTLAND, Ore. - Researchers at Oregon Health & Science University's Neurological Sciences Institute have uncovered the system that tells the body when to perform one of its most basic defenses against the cold: shivering. The scientists have discovered the brain's wiring system, which takes temperature information from the skin and determines when a person should start shivering. Their findings are published in the advance online edition of the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"Shivering, which is actually heat production in skeletal muscles, requires quite a bit of energy and is usually the last strategy the body uses to maintain its internal temperature to survive in a severe cold environment. Other strategies to defend against the cold, such as reducing heat loss to the environment by restricting blood flow to the skin, also appear to be controlled by the sensory mechanism that we found," explained Kazuhiro Nakamura, Ph.D., an OHSU Fellow for Research Abroad from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science. He published the research along with his colleague Shaun Morrison, Ph.D., a senior scientist. "One fascinating aspect of this study is that it shows the sensory pathway for shivering, which can be thought of as brain wiring, is parallel to but not the same as the sensory pathway for conscious cold detection. In other words, your body is both consciously and subconsciously detecting the cold at the same time using two different but related sensory systems."

The research was conducted by studying rats. It is believed that the information directly applies to humans because previous research has demonstrated many parallels between the two species regarding this basic function of sensing and regulating heat. While studying these rats, the researchers were able to trace the shivering sensory pathway from the skin to specialized cells in a portion of the brain called the lateral parabrachial nucleus. These cells can then transmit information to another part of the brain called the preoptic area, which decides when the body should start shivering.

Shivering is one of the many automatic and subconscious regulatory body functions, often called homeostatic functions, that the brain regulates. Other examples include the adjustment of breathing rates, blood pressure, heart rate and weight regulation. Throughout the day, all of these important functions take place in the body without conscious thought. Without these important functions, humans and other animals could not survive.

"This research is a fundamental science discovery that furthers our knowledge about one of the many functions that our brains are constantly monitoring, responding to and adjusting to keep us alive and healthy," explained Morrison. "It is noteworthy, however, that there are conditions, such as hypothermia and hyperthermia, in which thermal sensory pathways come into play and knowledge of the brain's wiring can provide important clues to locating dysfunction in patients with abnormal thermal sensation. In addition, our ability to sense and respond to temperature changes degrades as we age."
-end-
About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is the state's only health and research university, and only academic health center. As Portland's largest employer and the fourth largest in Oregon (excluding government), OHSU's size contributes to its ability to provide many services and community support activities not found anywhere else in the state. It serves more than 184,000 patients, and is a conduit for learning for more than 3,900 students and trainees. OHSU is the source of more than 200 community outreach programs that bring health and education services to each county in the state.

Oregon Health & Science University

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.