Scientist Probes Promising Link Between Warmth, Better Moods

Sep 15, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- The University of Colorado at Boulder scientist who discovered that playing in the dirt might ease depression is probing the link between higher temperatures and elevated mood.

Christopher Lowry sees relationships between both lines of inquiry -- researching the link between the immune system and the and probing the link between and serotonin.

The upshot is potentially significant. Understanding these mechanisms might help scientists craft better treatments for depression and other , he says.

Lowry, an assistant professor of integrative physiology, believes the area of research is promising. So does the National Science Foundation, which recently granted Lowry a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development Award, a prestigious honor also called the CAREER Award, to continue his study of the role of temperature in mood.

"Whether lying on the beach in the midday sun on a Caribbean island, grabbing a few minutes in the sauna or spa after work or sitting in a hot bath or Jacuzzi in the evening, we often associate feeling warm with a sense of relaxation and well-being," Lowry writes in a recent edition of the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

"Intuitively, we all understand that temperature affects our mood," Lowry said. But a link has not been clearly defined. "So that's what we're going after."

Virtually all activate the serotonin system. Lowry's research group noted studies from the 1970s showing that warming a small piece of skin in rats caused increased activity in an area of the brain with serotonin-producing neurons. "So then we had a potential pathway," he said.

Lowry's lab has been a world leader in demonstrating that there are different subpopulations of serotonin-producing neurons, some associated with anxiety, others with panic, immune activation and antidepressant-like effects.

And while scientists know that serotonin is related to mood, appetite and aggression, they don't know exactly how the substance is involved. The same is true of antidepressants such as Prozac and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.

"It's a complete black box how these drugs work, which I think many people might find surprising," Lowry says. "We think that if we understood what makes these serotonin neurons different from other neurons that we would then be in a position to develop rational new therapies for treatment of ."

Several clues suggest a connection between temperature and mood, he says. People who are depressed often experience altered temperature cycles. Virtually all antidepressants can cause sweating, a thermoregulatory cooling mechanism typically triggered when a person gets warm.

This system may be activated by exercise. When you exercise, body temperatures rise, and you sweat. "That very likely involves some of the mechanisms that we're studying," Lowry says.

Several studies have shown that regular exercise has an antidepressant effect. "So they have studied exercise, but they haven't studied temperature change, which is a component of exercise."

Serotonin neurons can be activated by warm temperature externally, via the skin, and internally. The calming effect of body warmth seems to occur only up until the temperature becomes hazardous, around 104 degrees Fahrenheit. "So we think there's a link between the system that cools the body and a sense of relaxation."

Provided by University of Colorado at Boulder (news : web)

Explore further: Missing protein restored in patients with muscular dystrophy

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Getting dirty may lift your mood

Apr 02, 2007

Treatment of mice with a ‘friendly’ bacteria, normally found in the soil, altered their behavior in a way similar to that produced by antidepressant drugs, reports research published in the latest issue of Neuroscience.

The yin and yang of genes for mood disorders

Mar 12, 2008

Individual genes do not cause depression, but they are thought to increase the probability of an individual having a depression in the face of other accumulating risk factors, such as other genes and environmental stressors.

Brain protein may be a target for fast-acting antidepressants

Feb 25, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- It takes weeks or months for the effect of most antidepressants to kick in, time that can feel like an eternity to those who need the drugs the most. But new research suggests that a protein called p11, previously ...

Sex differences in the brain's serotonin system

Feb 13, 2008

A new thesis from he Swedish medical university Karolinska Institutet shows that the brain’s serotonin system differs between men and women. The scientists who conducted the study think that they have found one of the reasons ...

Recommended for you

Student seeks to improve pneumonia vaccines

Aug 20, 2014

Almost a million Americans fall ill with pneumonia each year. Nearly half of these cases require hospitalization, and 5-7 percent are fatal. Current vaccines provide protection against some strains of the ...

Seabed solution for cold sores

Aug 20, 2014

The blue blood of abalone, a seabed delicacy could be used to combat common cold sores and related herpes virus following breakthrough research at the University of Sydney.

Better living through mitochondrial derived vesicles

Aug 19, 2014

(Medical Xpress)—As principal transformers of bacteria, organelles, synapses, and cells, vesicles might be said to be the stuff of life. One need look no further than the rapid rise to prominence of The ...

Zebrafish help to unravel Alzheimer's disease

Aug 19, 2014

New fundamental knowledge about the regulation of stem cells in the nerve tissue of zebrafish embryos results in surprising insights into neurodegenerative disease processes in the human brain. A new study by scientists at ...

User comments : 0