Brief Exposure To High Temperature Has Lasting Effect On Nervous System

Researchers at the University of Chicago in collaboration with scientists at Queens University in Ontario, Canada, have shown for the first time that brief exposure to high temperatures has long-lasting physiological effects on the nervous system. These changes, which the researchers measured in locusts, may be what enables the animals to fly in very hot environments.

The study, published in the February issue of the Journal of Neurophysiology, is also the first to use a new technique, allowing scientists to measure changes in neuronal activity in insects' minute brains.

"Scientists have suspected that heat shock has adaptive properties for all kinds of animals, we just haven't had any direct evidence until now," says Nino Ramirez, Ph.D., assistant professor of organismal biology & anatomy at the University of Chicago. Ramirez and R.M. Robertson, Ph.D., professor of biology at Queens University, decided to look into how heat exposure effects the locust's ability to fly.

"Locusts that are transferred from cooler places to a warm desert have trouble flying and some even die," says Ramirez. "But locusts exposed to brief periods of high temperatures and later released into the desert can fly normally. We thought that previous heat exposure might have changed the properties of the neurons somehow," says Ramirez.

To test the idea that heat shock induces lasting modifications of neuronal properties, Ramirez and Robertson exposed 50 locusts to 45 degree Celsius temperatures (about 112 degrees Fahrenheit) for 3 hours, while control locusts were kept at room temperature (about 70 degrees Fahrenheit) for the same amount of time. Heat-shocked locusts were allowed 6 to 24 hours to recover.

"We couldn't measure activity in single neurons because they are too tiny," Ramirez says. "We had no choice but to measure from slices of the brain which are large enough to preserve relatively intact neuronal activity, but

Contact: Sharon Parmet
University of Chicago

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