Cerebral Vascular Control and Metabolism in Heat Stress

Compr Physiol. 2015 Jul 1;5(3):1345-80. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140066.


This review provides an in-depth update on the impact of heat stress on cerebrovascular functioning. The regulation of cerebral temperature, blood flow, and metabolism are discussed. We further provide an overview of vascular permeability, the neurocognitive changes, and the key clinical implications and pathologies known to confound cerebral functioning during hyperthermia. A reduction in cerebral blood flow (CBF), derived primarily from a respiratory-induced alkalosis, underscores the cerebrovascular changes to hyperthermia. Arterial pressures may also become compromised because of reduced peripheral resistance secondary to skin vasodilatation. Therefore, when hyperthermia is combined with conditions that increase cardiovascular strain, for example, orthostasis or dehydration, the inability to preserve cerebral perfusion pressure further reduces CBF. A reduced cerebral perfusion pressure is in turn the primary mechanism for impaired tolerance to orthostatic challenges. Any reduction in CBF attenuates the brain's convective heat loss, while the hyperthermic-induced increase in metabolic rate increases the cerebral heat gain. This paradoxical uncoupling of CBF to metabolism increases brain temperature, and potentiates a condition whereby cerebral oxygenation may be compromised. With levels of experimentally viable passive hyperthermia (up to 39.5-40.0 °C core temperature), the associated reduction in CBF (∼ 30%) and increase in cerebral metabolic demand (∼ 10%) is likely compensated by increases in cerebral oxygen extraction. However, severe increases in whole-body and brain temperature may increase blood-brain barrier permeability, potentially leading to cerebral vasogenic edema. The cerebrovascular challenges associated with hyperthermia are of paramount importance for populations with compromised thermoregulatory control--for example, spinal cord injury, elderly, and those with preexisting cardiovascular diseases.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation*
  • Heat Stress Disorders / metabolism*
  • Heat Stress Disorders / physiopathology
  • Heat-Shock Response*
  • Homeostasis
  • Humans