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Solving the Medical Mystery of Cold Feet
Date:8/17/2012

By Lisa Esposito
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Aug. 17 (HealthDay News) -- If you've ever been booted out of bed because of your icy feet, new research may help explain your plight.

Scientists have pinpointed specific proteins within the skin's blood vessels that play a part in the body's reaction to cold stimuli, whether it's exposure to chilly weather or touching a frigid surface with your bare hand.

The body's response to cold is to cut off circulation to the extremities to preserve blood flow to warm the internal organs. But for some people, this response is too strong, or it occurs mistakenly.

In Raynaud's disease, for instance, as the body responds to cold or stress, blood vessels narrow in the fingers and toes, which may feel numb and turn from white to blue to red during an attack.

The researchers wanted to know more about the physiological mechanisms at work. The new study and an accompanying editorial appear in a recent issue of the American Journal of Physiology -- Cell Physiology.

The researchers used muscle cells from tiny blood vessels in skin-punch biopsies from healthy volunteers as well as muscle cells from an artery found in mouse tails with circulation similar to human skin.

"Our bodies are engineered by evolution to conserve heat and energy," explained Dr. Martin Michel, a professor at Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany, and the co-author of the editorial. "One way of doing this is limiting blood flow to the skin by making blood vessels constrict, and norepinephrine (a hormone and neurotransmitter) does this via alpha-adrenergic receptors on muscle cells in the blood vessel wall. But we only want this to happen when it is cold."

For some people, he said, it appears that the healthy reaction goes awry.

"The mechanisms get active at 'normal' outer temperature," Michel said. "This could involve too many alpha-adrenergic receptors or that the [temperatur
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