Background: The contribution of mean skin temperature to the thresholds for sweating and active precapillary vasodilation has been evaluated in numerous human studies. In contrast, the contribution of skin temperature to the control of cold responses such as arteriovenous shunt vasoconstriction and shivering is less well established. Accordingly, the authors tested the hypothesis that mean skin and core temperatures are linearly related at the vasoconstriction and shivering thresholds in men. Because the relation between skin and core temperatures might vary by gender, the cutaneous contribution to thermoregulatory control also was determined in women.
Methods: In the first portion of the study, six men participated on 5 randomly ordered days, during which mean skin temperatures were maintained near 31, 34, 35, 36, and 37 degrees C. Core hypothermia was induced by central venous infusion of cold lactated Ringer's solution sufficient to induce peripheral vasoconstriction and shivering. The core-temperature thresholds were then plotted against skin temperature and a linear regression fit to the values. The relative skin and core contributions to the control of each response were calculated from the slopes of the regression equations. In the second portion of the study, six women participated on three randomly ordered days, during which mean skin temperatures were maintained near 31, 35, and 37 degrees C. At each designated skin temperature, core hypothermia sufficient to induce peripheral vasoconstriction and/or shivering was again induced by central venous infusion of cold lactated Ringer's solution. The cutaneous contributions to control of each response were then calculated from the skin- and core-temperature pairs at the vasoconstriction and shivering thresholds.
Results: There was a linear relation between mean skin and core temperatures at the response thresholds in the men: r = 0.90 +/- 0.06 for vasoconstriction and r = 0.94 +/- 0.07 for shivering. Skin temperature contributed 20 +/- 6% to vasoconstriction and 19 +/- 8% to shivering. Skin temperature in the women contributed to 18 +/- 4% to vasoconstriction and 18 +/- 7% to shivering, values not differing significantly from those in men. There was no apparent correlation between the cutaneous contributions to vasoconstriction and shivering in individual volunteers.
Conclusions: These data indicate that skin and core temperatures contribute linearly to the control of vasoconstriction and shivering in men and that the cutaneous contributions average approximately 20% in both men and women. The same coefficients thus can be used to compensate for experimental skin temperature manipulations in men and women. However, the cutaneous contributions to each response vary among volunteers; furthermore, the contributions to the two responses vary within volunteers.