Wayne State University medicos reveal new insights into the neural origins of hot flashes, possibly leading to new treatments for women who experience sudden episodes of body warmth, flushing, and sweating.
"The idea of understanding brain responses during thermoregulatory events has spawned many studies where thermal stimuli were applied to the skin. But hot flashes are unique because they are internally generated, so studying them presents unique challenges," said Robert Freedman, the study's principal investigator.
The women in the study were aged from 47 to 58 and reported six or more hot flashes a day. To investigate, the researchers measured skin conductance levels (skin conductance is an electrical measure of sweating) to identify the onset of flashes while the women's brains were scanned.
The researchers focused on regions like the brain stem because its sub regions, such as the medullary and dorsal raphe, are implicated in thermal regulation, while forebrain regions, such as the insula, have been implicated in the personal perception of how someone feels.
The researchers found that activity in some brain areas, such as the brain stem, begins to rise before the actual onset of the hot flash.
"Frankly, evidence of fMRI-measured rise in the activity of the brain stem even before women experience a hot flash is a stunning result. When this finding is considered along with the fact that activity in the insula only rises after the experience of the hot flash, we gain some insight on the complexity of brain mechanisms that mediate basic regulatory functions," said co-researcher Vaibhav Diwadkar.
These results indicate that hot flashes originate in very specific brain regions. The researchers now want to explore the possibility of integrating brain imaging with treatment to examine whether specific pharmacotherapies for menopause might alter these regional brain responses.
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Source: Wayne State University