European Journal of Applied Physiology

, Volume 104, Issue 2, pp 137–143 | Cite as

Process- and controller-adaptations determine the physiological effects of cold acclimation

  • Jürgen WernerEmail author
Original Article


Experimental results on physiological effects of cold adaptation seem confusing and apparently incompatible with one another. This paper will explain that a substantial part of such a variety of results may be deduced from a common functional concept. A core/shell treatment (“model”) of the thermoregulatory system is used with mean body temperature as the controlled variable. Adaptation, as a higher control level, is introduced into the system. Due to persistent stressors, either the (heat transfer) process or the controller properties (parameters) are adjusted (or both). It is convenient to call the one “process adaptation” and the other “controller adaptation”. The most commonly demonstrated effect of autonomic cold acclimation is a change in the controller threshold. The analysis shows that this necessarily means a lowering of body temperature because of a lowered metabolic rate. This explains experimental results on both Europeans in the climatic chamber and Australian Aborigines in a natural environment. Exclusive autonomic process adaptation occurs in the form of a better insulation. The analysis explains why the post-adaptive steady-state can only be achieved, if the controller system reduces metabolism and why in spite of this the new state is inevitably characterized by a rise in body temperature. If both process and controller adaptations are simultaneously present, there may be not any change of body temperature at all, e.g., as demonstrated in animal experiments. Whether this kind of adaptation delivers a decrease, an increase or no change of mean body temperature, depends on the proportion of process and controller adaptation.


Thermoregulation Cold acclimation Process adaptation Controller adaptation 


  1. Adams T, Heberling EJ (1958) Human physiological responses to a standardized cold stress as modified by physical fitness. J Appl Physiol 13:226–230PubMedGoogle Scholar
  2. Baum E, Brück K, Schwennicke HJP (1976) Adaptive modifications in the thermoregulatory system of long-distance runners. J Appl Physiol 40: 404–410PubMedGoogle Scholar
  3. Bittel JHM (1987) Heat debt as an index for cold adaptation in men. J Appl Physiol 62:1627–1634PubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Brück K, Baum E, Schwennicke HJP (1976) Cold adaptive modifications in man induced by repeated short-term cold exposures and during a 10-day and –night cold exposure. Pflügers Arch 363:125–133PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Buse M, Werner J (1985) Heat-balance of the human body: influence of variations of locally distributed parameters. J Theor Biol 114:34–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Davis TRA (1970) Acclimatization to cold in man. In: Hardy JD, Gagge AP, Stolwijk JAJ (eds) Physiological and behavioural temperature regulation. Thomas, Springfield, pp 443–452Google Scholar
  7. Hammel HT, Elsner RW, Le Messurier DH, Andersen HT, Milan FH (1959) Thermal and metabolic responses of the Australian aborigine to moderate cold in summer. J Appl Physiol 14:605–615Google Scholar
  8. Rees A, Eglin C, Taylor N, Hetherington M, Mekjavic IB, Tipton MJ (2002) The nature of human adaptation to cold. In: Proceedings of the 10th international conference on environmental ergonomics, Fukuoka, Japan, pp 143–146. ISBN 4-9901358-0-6Google Scholar
  9. Scholander PF, Hammel HT, Lange-Andersen K, Loyning Y (1958) Metabolic acclimation of cold in man. J Appl Physiol 12:1–8PubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Tipton MJ, Pandolf KB, Sawka MN, Werner J (2007) Physiological adaptation to hot and cold environments. In: Taylor NAS, Groeller H (eds) Physiological bases of human performance during work and exercise (in press)Google Scholar
  11. Werner J (1988) Functional mechanisms of temperature regulation, adaptation and fever: complementary system theoretical and experimental evidence. Pharmacol Ther 37:1–23PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Werner J, Graener R (1986) Thermoregulatory responses to cold during a 7-week acclimatisation process in rabbits. Pflügers Arch 406:547–551PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Werner J, Mekjavic IB, Taylor NAS (2007) Concepts in physiological regulation: a thermoregulatory perspective. In: Taylor NAS, Groeller H (eds) Physiological bases of human performance during work and exercise (in press)Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center of Biomedical Methods, Medical FacultyRuhr-University BochumBochumGermany

Personalised recommendations