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Behind Shivering

January 15, 2008

Shivering is triggered through a separate pathway from conscious cold perception, according to new research.


What makes us shiver? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

On a frigid day, you might start shivering to generate body heat. But surprisingly, this has little to do with actually feeling cold. This according to senior scientist Shaun Morrison and his colleagues at Oregon Health & Science University. They found that the skin’s cold receptors send signals along two parallel but separate nerve pathways. Some go to the brain’s thalamus and cortex, and make us feel cold. Other signals go to the parabrachial nucleus and preoptic area, and cause shivering.

SHAUN MORRISON (Oregon Health & Science University):
They also produce constriction of the blood vessels in the skin, to limit your heat loss to the environment. So that’s actually the first thing that happens when you’re in a cold environment, you want to restrict the heat loss that you have.

The findings may help scientists better understand shivering’s role in critical situations, like fever and hypothermia. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.