Although it is known that the brain has internal molecular temperature sensors that control core body temperature, decades of research by scientists has failed to identify it. Core body temperature is critical for survival and is normally maintained within a narrow range below 37° Celsius.
Kun Song and colleagues have finally homed in on the neurons that act as the brain’s internal thermostat. The results of the study could be used during recovery after trauma where it is critical for body temperature to be reduced. The control of body temperature may also have other therapeutic applications.
The hypothalamus is the part of the brain that detects and regulates internal temperature. In experiments done on mice, the team managed to identify neurons that were exclusively activated in response to warming at temperatures above the biological set point of 37°C.
The researchers found that these neurons expressed the ion channel TRPM2. Increased temperature was detected to prevent overheating, but experiments with mice using fever models also showed that they limited the body’s temperature when it rises in response to infection. Although the experiments were done with mice, the approach proposes a way to control core body temperature remotely. This could lead to insights into the effects of changed core body temperature on processes such as obesity, longevity, energy expenditure and trauma recovery.