Temperature shift

Mice alter the levels of many genes in various organs in response to changes in the environmental temperature.

Fat cells or adipocytes shown in clumps (right, unstained) throughout loose connective tissue (left, collagen in green), supporting a stratified epithelium (red). Image credit: Franck Genten (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Humans, mice and most other mammals are constantly exposed to fluctuations in the temperature of their environment. These fluctuations cause striking metabolic effects in the body, for example, exposure to cold promotes burning of calories to generate heat, thereby reducing how much fat accumulates in the body. On the other hand, warmer temperatures strengthen the bones and protect against a bone disease known as osteoporosis. As such, it has been suggested that exposure to alternating warm or cold temperatures could be a potential lifestyle intervention that conveys various benefits to our health.

Our body stores fat in tissues known as adipose tissues, which are found all over the body including under the skin and around our major organs and muscles. Exposure to cold triggers changes in the activities of some genes in the adipose tissues to burn more calories. But it remains unclear how temperature affects the activities of other organs with respect to their expression of genes in the whole-body context.

Hadadi, Spiljar et al. used an RNA sequencing approach to study the activities of genes in various tissues of mice exposed to cold (10°C), room temperature (22°C), or mild warm (34°C). The experiments revealed numerous genes whose levels were different in the various organs and temperatures tested.

Overall, adipose tissues experienced the biggest changes in gene levels between different temperatures, followed by tissues involved in immune responses, and the brain and spinal cord tissues. Each organ changed gene expression levels in its own way. , and this was not due to the different intimate gene expression profile between the various organs.

These findings improve our understanding of how changes in temperature affect mammals by putting the responses of individual tissues into the context of the whole body. Hadadi, Spiljar et al. also generated a web-based, free-to-use application to allow others to view and further analyze the data collected in this work for gene levels in the various organs of interest.