Control of the Cutaneous Circulation by the Central Nervous System

William Blessing, Robin McAllen, Michael McKinley

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    25 Citations (Scopus)


    The central nervous system (CNS), via its control of sympathetic outflow, regulates blood flow to the acral cutaneous beds (containing arteriovenous anastomoses) as part of the homeostatic thermoregulatory process, as part of the febrile response, and as part of cognitive-emotional processes associated with purposeful interactions with the external environment, including those initiated by salient or threatening events (we go pale with fright). Inputs to the CNS for the thermoregulatory process include cutaneous sensory neurons, and neurons in the preoptic area sensitive to the temperature of the blood in the internal carotid artery. Inputs for cognitive-emotional control from the exteroceptive sense organs (touch, vision, sound, smell, etc.) are integrated in forebrain centers including the amygdala. Psychoactive drugs have major effects on the acral cutaneous circulation. Interoceptors, chemoreceptors more than baroreceptors, also influence cutaneous sympathetic outflow. A major advance has been the discovery of a lower brainstem control center in the rostral medullary raphé, regulating outflow to both brown adipose tissue (BAT) and to the acral cutaneous beds. Neurons in the medullary raphé, via their descending axonal projections, increase the discharge of spinal sympathetic preganglionic neurons controlling the cutaneous vasculature, utilizing glutamate, and serotonin as neurotransmitters. Present evidence suggests that both thermoregulatory and cognitive-emotional control of the cutaneous beds from preoptic, hypothalamic, and forebrain centers is channeled via the medullary raphé. Future studies will no doubt further unravel the details of neurotransmitter pathways connecting these rostral control centers with the medullary raphé, and those operative within the raphé itself.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1161-1197
    Number of pages37
    JournalComprehensive Physiology
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2016


    • Central Nervous System
    • Cutaneous Circulation
    • sympathetic outflow
    • acral cutaneous beds
    • cutaneous sensory neurons


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