It’s finally time to connect the pieces of the puzzle. Many studies have been conducted monitoring how thermoregulation is controlled by body temperature. We know a lot about what happens. Sadly, despite many efforts by scientists all over the world, we still seem to only have a vague notion of how this interaction occurs. Without the ability to really trace neuronal pathways and easy detect what signaling molecules are being used (neurotransmitter, hormones, etc.) it’s difficult to be given definitive answers. This blog entry will focus on describing what we observe about the relationship between thermoregulation and circadian rhythms.
We humans are creatures of habit. Most of our normal activities (eating, sleeping, etc) are done at roughly the same time every day. This is not by coincidence. Our brains contain an internal clock which regulates a plethora of bodily functions. From hormone production and cell regeneration to brain wave activity and body temperature, all of them show a cyclical pattern coinciding with certain hours of the day. It’s actually essential to our survival, without balancing energy demands of sleeping, repair, and other processes it would be difficult for us to function properly. In fact, the idea of timing processes is so evolutionarily ancient, that it can even be seen in the simple fungus Neurospora. The fungus only conducts DNA replication at night to protect from UV radiation. Scientists call our 24 hour internal cycle our circadian rhythms.
My project is about the interaction of thermoregulation and circadian rhythms in the brain. Each of my three blog entries will focus on a specific piece of this. In this first entry I will describe how we regulate our body temperatures, the second will focus on circadian rhythms and the last entry will bring it all together and describe what we know about their interaction. I think that is enough foreshadowing, on to the task at hand: the body’s thermostat.
Circadian Rhythms are often described a person’s biological clock. Humans and other animals have processes that occur in their bodies at approximately the same time every day. These processes act as time markers so our bodies know when to engage in certain behaviors. Circadian Rhythms set our eating, sleeping, and other behaviors. One particular process that Circadian Rhythms are associated with is thermoregulation—how our bodies maintain a set body temperature. Limited research has been done on the mechanisms behind this process and it has been spread across several fields: Biology, Psychology, and Neuroscience. These have shown a variety of interesting results, for example, we tend to seek out warm places before going sleep, during which out body temperature varies quite a bit. Being across so many fields, not a lot of literature exists giving a clear summary on what is known. My goal is to compile this research in to an easy to read review article which could act as a jumping off point for anyone interested in doing research in this area. The article would have an aim of explaining why our body temperature changes with our circadian rhythms and describe how these changes occur. Since the exact mechanism is unknown the article will also have the goal of pointing out specific areas of research that should be pursued.