Frontiers in Physiology, 5:24 (2014).
Temperature has profound effects on a wide range of parameters of neural activity at various scales . At the cell level, ionic currents, membrane potential, input resistance, action potential amplitude, duration and propagation, and synaptic transmission have all been shown to be affected by temperature variations [1-5]. At mesoscopic scales of neural activity, temperature changes can steer network activity toward different functional regimes , affecting the duration, frequency and firing rate of activated states during slow frequency oscillations, and the ability to end these states . Temperature also has a substantial effect on chemical reaction rates , and affects the blood oxygen saturation level by changing haemoglobin affinity for oxygen . Furthermore, cooling reduces metabolic processes , and has been used to silence cortical areas to study their function .
[Read more in Frontiers in Fractal Physiology]
The effects of temperature on various aspects of neural activity from single cell to neural circuit level have long been known. However, how temperature affects the system-level of activity typical of experiments using non-invasive imaging techniques, such as magnetic brain imaging of electroencephalography, where neither its direct measurement nor its manipulation are possible, is essentially unknown. Starting from its basic physical definition, we discuss
possible ways in which temperature may be used both as a parameter controlling the evolution of other variables through which brain activity is observed, and as a collective variable describing brain activity. On the one hand, temperature represents a key control parameter of brain phase space navigation. On the other hand, temperature is a quantitative measure of the relationship between spontaneous and evoked brain activity, which can be used to describe how brain activity deviates from thermodynamic equilibrium. These two aspects are further illustrated in the case of learning-related brain activity, which is shown to be reducible to a purely thermally guided phenomenon. The phenomenological similarity between brain activity and amorphous materials suggests a characterization of plasticity of the former in terms of the well-studied temperature and thermal history dependence of the latter, and of individual differences in learning capabilities as material-specific properties. Finally, methods to extract a temperature from experimental data are reviewed, from which the whole brain’s thermodynamics can then be reconstructed.
[Read more in ArXiv]