Variations in body morphology explain sex differences in thermoeffector function during compensable heat stress
What is the central question of this study? Can sex-related differences in cutaneous vascular and sudomotor responses be explained primarily by variations in the ratio between body surface area and mass during compensable exercise that elicits equivalent heat-loss requirements and mean body temperature changes across participants? What is the main finding and its importance? Mass-specific surface area was a significant determinant of vasomotor and sudomotor responses in men and women, explaining 10-48% of the individual thermoeffector variance. Nonetheless, after accounting for changes in mean body temperature and morphological differences, sex explained only 5% of that inter-individual variability. It was concluded that sex differences in thermoeffector function are morphologically dependent, but not sex dependent. Sex is sometimes thought to be an independent modulator of cutaneous vasomotor and sudomotor function during heat exposure. Nevertheless, it was hypothesized that, when assessed during compensable exercise that evoked equal heat-loss requirements across participants, sex differences in those thermoeffectors would be explained by variations in the ratio between body surface area and mass (specific surface area). To evaluate that possibility, vasomotor and sudomotor functions were assessed in 60 individuals (36 men and 24 women) with widely varying (overlapping) specific surface areas (range, 232.3-292.7 and 241.2-303.1 cm2 kg-1 , respectively). Subjects completed two trials in compensable conditions (28°C, 36% relative humidity) involving rest (20 min) and steady-state cycling (45 min) at fixed, area-specific metabolic heat-production rates (light, ∼135 W m-2 ; moderate, ∼200 W m-2 ). Equivalent heat-loss requirements and mean body temperature changes were evoked across participants. Forearm blood flow and vascular conductance were positively related to specific surface area during light work in men (r = 0.67 and r = 0.66, respectively; both P < 0.05) and during both exercise intensities in women (light, r = 0.57 and r = 0.69; and moderate, r = 0.64 and r = 0.68; all P < 0.05). Whole-body and local sweat rates were negatively related to that ratio (correlation coefficient range, -0.33 to -0.62; all P < 0.05) during both work rates in men and women. Those relationships accounted for 10-48% of inter-individual thermoeffector variance (P < 0.05). Furthermore, after accounting for morphological differences, sex explained no more than 5% of that variability (P < 0.05). It was concluded that, when assessed during compensable exercise, sex differences in thermoeffector function were largely determined morphologically, rather than being sex dependent.