How do we respond to the cold?

11 December 2014        

Wintery scene

Research at King's College London, part-funded by us, has linked a specific gene to the body's response to cold temperatures. The findings could help scientists develop treatments for many conditions where blood vessel health is important, from frostbite and Raynaud’s disease, to dementia and heart failure.  

The gene, called, TRPA1, is linked to pain sensitivity and is targeted in the development of some painkillers, but this is the fist time that it has been associated with the body's response to the cold. 

In cold temperatures, blood vessels constrict, limiting the amount of hot blood that goes to the skin so that the body can retain heat. Once you return to warmer conditions, the blood vessels expand back and restore the full supply of blood to the skin. This research, published today in Nature Communications, shows that TRPA1 in mice acts in two ways - first by sensing the change in temperature and then by stimulating the body's blood vessels to expand or constrict.

Although in early stages, the findings offer a new understanding of the body's response to temperature, but they also give us insights into how the body maintains healthy blood vessels. 

Professor Peter Weissberg, our Medical Director said:

“This study helps us to understand how and why our blood vessels contract and expand, and could help scientists develop treatments for many conditions where blood vessel or ‘vascular’ health is important, from Raynaud’s to heart failure.  

“Any research that helps to explain the complicated processes that control the circulatory system may have wide reaching implications in the future, as vascular health is involved in so many different diseases.” 

Disease and healthy blood vessels

Maintaining the health of our blood vessels is an important part of preventing heart disease, that's why we fund millions of pounds so that researchers can study blood vessel or 'vascular' health. One research project, led by Dr Rosemary Bass and costing more than £105,000, is looking specifically at the effect of a protein called maspin on vascular smooth muscle, the muscle that lines the blood vessel walls. 

Support heart research

Like all of our research, this work wouldn't be possible without your help. We need your donations to help us fund more cutting-edge heart research.