Animal studies have identified the preoptic area as the key thermoregulatory region of the brain but no comparable information exists in humans. We used fMRI to study the preoptic area of human volunteers. Subjects lay in a 3T MRI scanner and were subjected to whole body heating by a water-perfused suit, to a level that resulted in a low rate of discrete sweating events (measured by finger skin resistance). Control scans were taken under thermoneutral conditions in another group. A discrete cluster of voxels in the preoptic area showed activity that was significantly correlated with thermal sweating events. We then used this cluster as a seed to investigate whether other brain areas had activity correlated with its signal, and whether that correlation depended on thermal state. Several brain regions including the dorsal cingulate cortex, anterior insula and midbrain showed ongoing activity that was correlated with that of the preoptic seed more strongly during heating than during thermoneutrality. These data provide the first imaging evidence for a thermoregulatory role of the human preoptic area. They further suggest that during thermal stress, the preoptic area communicates to several other brain regions with known relevance to the control of autonomic effectors.
- functional connectivity
- preoptic area