Physiological and Behavioral Mechanisms of Thermoregulation in Mammals

Animals (Basel). 2021 Jun 10;11(6):1733. doi: 10.3390/ani11061733.


This review analyzes the main anatomical structures and neural pathways that allow the generation of autonomous and behavioral mechanisms that regulate body heat in mammals. The study of the hypothalamic neuromodulation of thermoregulation offers broad areas of opportunity with practical applications that are currently being strengthened by the availability of efficacious tools like infrared thermography (IRT). These areas could include the following: understanding the effect of climate change on behavior and productivity; analyzing the effects of exercise on animals involved in sporting activities; identifying the microvascular changes that occur in response to fear, pleasure, pain, and other situations that induce stress in animals; and examining thermoregulating behaviors. This research could contribute substantially to understanding the drastic modification of environments that have severe consequences for animals, such as loss of appetite, low productivity, neonatal hypothermia, and thermal shock, among others. Current knowledge of these physiological processes and complex anatomical structures, like the nervous systems and their close relation to mechanisms of thermoregulation, is still limited. The results of studies in fields like evolutionary neuroscience of thermoregulation show that we cannot yet objectively explain even processes that on the surface seem simple, including behavioral changes and the pathways and connections that trigger mechanisms like vasodilatation and panting. In addition, there is a need to clarify the connection between emotions and thermoregulation that increases the chances of survival of some organisms. An increasingly precise understanding of thermoregulation will allow us to design and apply practical methods in fields like animal science and clinical medicine without compromising levels of animal welfare. The results obtained should not only increase the chances of survival but also improve quality of life and animal production.

Keywords: cutaneous circulation; temperature modulation; thermal biology; thermoregulating behaviors; vascular microcirculation.

Publication types

  • Review