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The Brain-Climate Connection: The Hidden Impact of Rising Temperatures

Rising temperatures can affect brain health

Global warming is not only disrupting ecosystems, affecting the food we eat and the air we breathe, but it’s also impacting our neurological health.

According to the 2022 Global Climate Report from NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, 2022 was the sixth warmest year since 1880.

To understand this better, let’s start with the basics.

The brain is made up of billions of tiny cells called neurons that communicate with each other by generating electrochemical signals. Think of neurons as small batteries capable of producing electricity when triggered by electrically charged chemicals, called ions.

When a neuron is at rest, so when it’s not transmitting an electrical signal, it maintains a negative charge inside compared to the outside. This difference in charge is created by the selective movement of ions across the neuron’s membrane through ion channels and pumps. The resting membrane potential of a neuron is typically around -70 millivolts (mV).

When a neuron needs to send information, it generates electrical activity called action potential, which causes the electrical charge to become less negative and closer to zero. To trigger a full-sized action potential, the electrical charge needs to reach a threshold of approximately -55 mV.

If the charge reaches this threshold, a full-sized action potential is triggered and the neuron will send a signal down to other neurons. However, If the electrical charge does not reach this threshold, the neuron will not send a signal at all. This is known as the “ALL OR NONE” principle.

The action potential is a crucial part of the neuron’s communication process, as it allows the neuron to send signals quickly and efficiently to other neurons.

But here’s the catch: temperature fluctuations can affect the ion channels that generate and propagate action potentials, which are critical for the neuron’s communication process.

It turns out that an increase in temperature can influence the generation, speed, and duration of action potentials. But that’s not all! Hotter temperatures can trigger seizures in individuals with epilepsy or a history of seizures.

One of the most concerning findings from scientific research is that climate change, among other factors, may contribute to an increase in seizure severity and frequency, as well as the development of cerebrovascular and neurodegenerative diseases, such as strokes or dementia.

Triggering stress and sleep deprivation, heat waves can also exacerbate the symptoms of such pre-existing disorders.

The good news is that we can take action to address the direct impact of climate change on our planet and health. Joining initiatives like Climatematch Academy (CMA), a 2-week interactive online summer school, can help you learn more about climate science and become part of a global community that is working towards a more sustainable future.

CMA is an all-volunteer organization run by dozens of science enthusiasts. It aims at introducing computational methods for climate science taking advantage of available open-source tools and datasets to make science accessible to students worldwide.

This is your chance to learn cutting-edge techniques from climate science experts and make a difference in the world, ensuring a brighter future for ourselves and future generations.

By Viviana Greco

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