Rudolph’s Red Nose

As we have reached the winter solstice and the celebration of Christmas, that time of year so full of mysteries to ponder, Rick and I would like to help solve at least one of them: Rudolph’s red nose.  As we reveal on PodMed this week, the British Medical Journal has stepped out on a limb and published a serious scientific study of the reindeer’s nose, giving us all one more reason to believe.  I’ll describe the study, and for the skeptics among you, there’s even a very convincing video!

Handheld vital video microscopy (yikes) was used to assess the microcirculation of a reindeer’s nose and compare it to that seen in humans.  The blood vessel density in the human nose mucosa is known to be high, but the authors state that until the advent of this technique a really comprehensive study was impossible.  Yet it turns out that this vasculature is perhaps the best indicator of the circulatory system’s responses to drugs and conditions in people in the intensive care unit, previous studies utilizing this technique have reported. Who knew? Thus the authors decided to employ it in five consecutive human volunteers who were all nonsmokers, and two adult reindeer.  The humans received cocaine as a local anesthetic while the reindeer were lightly sedated using an intramuscular injection during the study.

The microvascular architecture, including networks of capillaries and hairpin-like vessels seen in the human were similar in the reindeer. The study reports a 25% higher functional vascular density in the reindeer, however, and a very curious physiologic phenomenon for which they’ve provided a video: during diastole the microvasculature of the reindeer is almost completely lacking in red blood cells, while during systole a very high density is seen.  Clearly, elucidating the functional advantage of such a phenomenon will require further study.

Video of thermographic images of a reindeer on a treadmill further corroborate the observations of the authors: http://www.bmj.com/multimedia/video/2012/12/18/why-rudolph’s-nose-red

For now, it's enough to see for ourselves that Rudolph does indeed, have a red nose, and that probably helps keep his nose from freezing as he zips around those high altitudes on Christmas Eve, as well as providing both his brain and his exercising musculature a heat releasing mechanism.  Go Rudolph!

Other, more serious topics this week include another from the BMJ on the use of hypnotic medications in folks with insomnia, and two from Lancet: a complete lack of benefit when antibiotics are taken by folks with lower respiratory infections, and another showing that treating whiplash intensively isn't helpful.  Until next week, y'all live well.

 

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