Effect of Heat Exposure on Cognition in Persons with Tetraplegia

John P. Handrakis, Zhen Ni Guan, John W. Nulty, Oriana Tascione, Dwindally Rosado-Rivera, Daniel White, Charlene Bang, Ann M. Spungen, William A. Bauman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Individuals with cervical spinal cord injury (SCI) have impaired thermoregulatory mechanisms attributed to interruption of motor, sensory, and autonomic neuropathways. To determine the effects of heat exposure on core body temperature (Tcore) and cognitive performance in persons with tetraplegia, 8 individuals with chronic tetraplegia (C3-C7, American Spinal Cord Injury Association Impairment Scale A-B) and 9 able-bodied controls were acclimated to 27°C at baseline (BL) before being exposed to 35°C for up to 120 min (Heat Challenge). Rectal temperature (Tcore), distal skin temperatures (Tskavg), sweat rate (QSavg), microvascular skin perfusion (LDFavg), and plasma norepinephrine (NE) were measured. Cognitive performance was assessed using Stroop Color and Word and Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition Digit Span tests at BL and at the end of Heat Challenge. After Heat Challenge, Tcore increased 0.78 ± 0.18°C (p < 0.001) in tetraplegics after an average of 118 ± 5 min. Tcore did not change in controls after 120 min. The increase in QSavg was larger in controls than in tetraplegics (946 ± 672% vs. 51 ± 12%; p = 0.007, respectively). LDFavg increased only in controls (109 ± 93%; p = 0.008). Tskavg appeared to increase less in tetraplegics than in controls. Plasma NE levels remained lower in tetraplegics compared to controls after Heat Challenge (86 ± 64 vs. 297 ± 84 pg/mL, respectively; p < 0.001). Stroop Color, Interference, and WAIS-IV Sequence scores increased only in tetraplegics (19.4 ± 17.2%; p < 0.05, 8.3 ± 5.9%; p < 0.05, 29.1 ± 27.4%; p < 0.05, respectively). Dysfunctional thermoregulatory mechanisms in the tetraplegic group allowed Tcore to rise from subnormal levels to normothermia during heat exposure. Normothermia was associated with improvements in attention, working memory, and executive function.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3372-3380
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neurotrauma
Issue number24
StatePublished - 15 Dec 2017


  • body temperature regulation
  • cognitive function
  • human studies
  • hyperthermia
  • traumatic spinal cord injury


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