Small nerve fibers regulate local skin blood flow in response to local thermal perturbations. Small nerve fiber function is difficult to assess with classical neurophysiological tests. In this study, a vasomotor response model in combination with a heating protocol was developed to quantitatively characterize the control mechanism of small nerve fibers in regulating skin blood flow in response to local thermal perturbation. The skin of healthy subjects’ hand dorsum (n = 8) was heated to 42 °C with an infrared lamp, and then naturally cooled down. The distance between the lamp and the hand was set to three different levels in order to change the irradiation intensity on the skin and implement three different skin temperature rise rates (0.03 °C/s, 0.02 °C/s and 0.01 °C/s). A laser Doppler imager (LDI) and a thermographic video camera recorded the temporal profile of the skin blood flow and the skin temperature, respectively. The relationship between the skin blood flow and the skin temperature was characterized by a vasomotor response model. The model fitted the skin blood flow response well with a variance accounted for (VAF) between 78% and 99%. The model parameters suggested a similar mechanism for the skin blood flow regulation with the thermal perturbations at 0.03 °C/s and 0.02 °C/s. But there was an accelerated skin vasoconstriction after a slow heating (0.01 °C/s) (p-value < 0.05). An attenuation of the skin vasodilation was also observed in four out of the seven subjects during the slow heating (0.01 °C/s). Our method provides a promising way to quantitatively assess the function of small nerve fibers non-invasively and non-contact.

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Keywords Modelling, Skin blood flow, Skin temperature, Small nerve fibers, Thermoregulation
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Journal Microvascular Research
Wu, Y., Nieuwenhoff, M.D, Huygen, F.J.P.M, van der Helm, F.C.T, Niehof, S.P, & Schouten, A.C. (2017). Characterizing human skin blood flow regulation in response to different local skin temperature perturbations. Microvascular Research, 111, 96–102. doi:10.1016/j.mvr.2016.12.007