Circadian and age-related modulation of thermoreception and temperature regulation: mechanisms and functional implications

Ageing Res Rev. 2002 Sep;1(4):721-78. doi: 10.1016/s1568-1637(02)00030-2.


At older ages, the circadian rhythm of body temperature shows a decreased amplitude, an advanced phase, and decreased stability. The present review evaluates to what extent these changes may result from age-related deficiencies at several levels of the thermoregulatory system, including thermoreception, thermogenesis and conservation, heat loss, and central regulation. Whereas some changes are related to the aging process per se, others appear to be secondary to other factors, for which the risk increases with aging, notably a decreased level of fitness and physical activity. Moreover, functional implications of the body temperature rhythm are discussed. For example, the relation between circadian rhythm and thermoregulation has hardly been investigated, while evidence showed that sleep quality is dependent on both aspects. It is proposed that the circadian rhythm in temperature in homeotherms should not be regarded as a leftover of ectothermy in early evolution, but appears to be of functional significance for physiology from the level of molecules to cognition. A new view on the functional significance of the circadian rhythm in peripheral vasodilation and the consequent out-of-phase rhythms in skin and core temperature is presented. It is unlikely that the strong, daily occurring, peripheral vasodilation primarily represents heat loss in response to a lowering of set point, since behavioral measures are simultaneously taken in order to prevent heat loss. Several indications rather point towards a supportive role in immunological host defense mechanisms. Given the functional significance of the temperature rhythm, research should focus on the feasibility and effectiveness of methods that can in principle be applied in order to enhance the weakened circadian temperature rhythm in the elderly.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature Regulation / physiology*
  • Circadian Rhythm / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Thermoreceptors / physiology*