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Cortical control of thermoregulatory sympathetic activation


Dr. M. Fechir, as above.


Thermoregulation enables adaptation to different ambient temperatures. A complex network of central autonomic centres may be involved. In contrast to the brainstem, the role of the cortex has not been clearly evaluated. This study was therefore designed to address cerebral function during a whole thermoregulatory cycle (cold, neutral and warm stimulation) using 18-fluordeoxyglucose-PET (FDG-PET). Sympathetic activation parameters were co-registered. Ten healthy male volunteers were examined three times on three different days in a water-perfused whole-body suit. After a baseline period (32°C), temperature was either decreased to 7°C (cold), increased to 50°C (warm) or kept constant (32°C, neutral), thereafter the PET examination was performed. Cerebral glucose metabolism was increased in infrapontine brainstem and cerebellar hemispheres during cooling and warming, each compared with neutral temperature. Simultaneously, FDG uptake decreased in the bilateral anterior/mid-cingulate cortex during warming, and in the right insula during cooling and warming. Conjunction analyses revealed that right insular deactivation and brainstem activation appeared both during cold and warm stimulation. Metabolic connectivity analyses revealed positive correlations between the cortical activations, and negative correlations between these cortical areas and brainstem/cerebellar regions. Heart rate changes negatively correlated with glucose metabolism in the anterior cingulate cortex and in the middle frontal gyrus/dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, and changes of sweating with glucose metabolism in the posterior cingulate cortex. In summary, these results suggest that the cerebral cortex exerts an inhibitory control on autonomic centres located in the brainstem or cerebellum. These findings may represent reasonable explanations for sympathetic hyperactivity, which occurs, for example, after hemispheric stroke.