As described in Chapter 1, the activities of cells, tissues, and organs must be regulated and integrated with each other in such a way that any change in the extracellular fluid initiates a reaction to minimize the change. Homeostasis denotes the relatively stable conditions of the internal environment that result from these compensating regulatory responses performed by homeostatic control systems.
Consider the regulation of body temperature. Our subject is a resting, lightly clad man in a room having a temperature of 20°C and moderate humidity. His internal body temperature is 37°C, and he is losing heat to the external environment because it is at a lower temperature. However, the chemical reactions occurring within the cells of his body are producing heat at a rate equal to the rate of heat loss. Under these conditions, the body undergoes no net gain or loss of heat, and the body temperature remains constant. The system is said to be in a steady state, defined as a system in which a particular variable (temperature, in this case) is not changing but energy (in this case, heat) must be added continuously to maintain this variable constant. (Steady states differ from equilibrium situations, in which a particular variable is not changing but no input of energy is required to maintain the constancy.) The steady-state temperature in our example is known as the set point (also termed the operating point) of the thermoregulatory system.
This example illustrates a crucial generalization about homeostasis: Stability of an internal environmental variable is achieved by the balancing of inputs and outputs. In this case, the variable (body temperature) remains constant because metabolic heat production (input) equals heat loss from the body (output).
Now we lower the temperature of the room rapidly, say to 5°C, and keep it there. This immediately increases the loss of heat from our subject's warm skin, upsetting the dynamic balance between heat gain and loss. The body temperature therefore starts to fall. Very rapidly, however, a variety of homeostatic responses occur to limit the fall. These are summarized in Figure 7-1. The reader is urged to study Figure 7-1 and its legend carefully because the figure is typical of those used throughout the remainder of the book to illustrate homeostatic systems, and the legend emphasizes several conventions common to such figures.
The first homeostatic response is that blood vessels to the skin narrow, reducing the amount of warm blood flowing through the skin and thus reducing heat loss. At a room temperature of 5°C, however, blood vessel constriction cannot completely eliminate the extra heat loss from the skin. Our subject curls up in order to reduce the surface area of the skin available for heat loss. This helps a bit, but excessive heat loss still continues, and body temperature keeps falling, although at a slower rate. He has a strong desire to put on more clothing—"voluntary" behavioral responses are often crucial events in homeostasis—but no clothing is available. Clearly, then, if excessive heat loss (output) cannot be prevented, the only way of restoring the balance between heat input and output is to increase input, and this is precisely what occurs. He begins to shiver, and the chemical reactions responsible
Vander et al.: Human Physiology: The Mechanism of Body Function, Eighth Edition
Homeostatic Mechanisms and Cellular Communication CHAPTER SEVEN
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This ebook provides an introductory explanation of the workings of the human body, with an effort to draw connections between the body systems and explain their interdependencies. A framework for the book is homeostasis and how the body maintains balance within each system. This is intended as a first introduction to physiology for a college-level course.