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What causes hot flushes during menopause?

Hot flushes are not 'in the head,' but new research suggests they may start there.

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A University of Arizona research team has identified a region in the brain that may trigger the uncomfortable surges of heat most women experience in the first few years of menopause

Hot flushes affect millions of people, and not just women. Yet, it is still unclear what causes the episodes of temperature discomfort, often accompanied by profuse sweating.

Now a team of researchers around Dr. Naomi Rance, a professor in the department of pathology at the UA College of Medicine, has come closer to understanding the mechanism of hot flushes, a necessary step for potential treatment options down the road. This research was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The team identified a group of brain cells known as KNDy neurons as a likely control switch of hot flushes. KNDy neurons (pronounced "candy") are located in the hypothalamus, a portion of the brain controlling vital functions that also serves as the switchboard between the central nervous system and hormone signals.

"Although the KNDy neurons are a very small population of cells, our research reveals that they play extremely important roles in how the body controls its energy resources, reproduction and temperature," said Melinda Mittelman-Smith, who led the study as part of her doctoral thesis. "They are true multitaskers."

By studying KNDy neurons...

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University of Arizona