2001 Volume 51 Issue 3 Pages 291-301
Artiodactyls and felids have a carotid rete that can cool the blood destined for the brain and consequently the brain itself if the cavernous sinus receives cool blood returning from the nose. This condition is usually fulfilled in resting and moderately hyperthermic animals. During severe exercise hyperthermia, however, the venous return from the nose bypasses the cavernous sinus so that brain cooling is suppressed. This is irreconcilable with the assumption that the purpose of selective brain cooling (SBC) is to protect the brain from thermal damage. Alternatively, SBC is seen as a mechanism engaging the thermoregulatory system in a water-saving economy mode in which evaporative heat loss is inhibited by the effects of SBC on brain temperature sensors. In nonhuman mammals that do not have a carotid rete, no evidence exists of whole-brain cooling. However, the surface of the cavernous sinus is in close contact with the base of the brain and is the likely source of unregulated regional cooling of the rostral brain stem in some species. In humans, the cortical regions next to the inner surface of the cranium are very likely to receive some regional cooling via the scalp-sinus pathway, and the rostral base of the brain can be cooled by conduction to the nearby respiratory tract; mechanisms capable of cooling the brain as a whole have not been found. Studies using conventional laboratory techniques suggest that SBC exists in birds and is determined by the physical conditions of heat transfer from the head to the environment instead of physiological control mechanisms. Thus except for species possessing a carotid rete, neither a coherent pattern of SBC nor a unifying concept of its biological significance in mammals and birds has evolved.