The lateral parabrachial nucleus, but not the thalamus, mediates thermosensory pathways for behavioural thermoregulation
Thermoregulatory behaviour, such as migration to a comfortable thermal environment, is a representative innate animal behaviour and facilitates effective autonomic regulation of body temperature with a reduced cost of resources. Here we determine the central thermosensory ascending pathway that transmits information on environmental temperature from cutaneous thermoreceptors to elicit thermoregulatory behaviour. To examine the contribution of the spinothalamocortical pathway, which is known to mediate thermosensory transmission for perception of skin temperature, we lesioned thalamic regions mediating this pathway in rats. Thalamic-lesioned rats showed compromised electroencephalographic responses in the primary somatosensory cortex to changes in skin temperature, indicating functional ablation of the spinothalamocortical pathway. However, these lesioned rats subjected to a two-floor innocuous thermal plate preference test displayed intact heat- and cold-avoidance thermoregulatory behaviours. We then examined the involvement of the lateral parabrachial nucleus (LPB), which mediates cutaneous thermosensory signaling to the thermoregulatory center for autonomic thermoregulation. Inactivation of neurons in the LPB eliminated both heat- and cold-avoidance thermoregulatory behaviours and ablated heat defense. These results demonstrate that the LPB, but not the thalamus, mediates the cutaneous thermosensory neural signaling required for behavioural thermoregulation, contributing to understanding of the central circuit that generates thermal comfort and discomfort underlying thermoregulatory behaviours.