7P – Homeostasis

Supporting article P: An extract from Wikipedia: An explanation of the concepts related to homeostasis as it applies to the regulation of certain organs in the human body; ecology and the biosphere.  .



Homeostasis (from Greek: ὅμοιος, hómoios, “similar”; and στάσις, stásis, “standing still”; defined by Claude Bernard and later by Walter Bradford Cannon in 1926, 1929 and 1932) is the property of a system, either open or closed, that regulates its internal environment and tends to maintain a stable, constant condition. Typically used to refer to a living organism, the concept came from that of milieu interieur that was created by Claude Bernard and published in 1865. Multiple dynamic equilibrium adjustment and regulation mechanisms make homeostasis possible.

Control mechanisms
All homeostatic control mechanisms have at least three interdependent components for the variable being regulated: The receptor is the sensing component that monitors and responds to changes in the environment. When the receptor senses a stimulus, it sends information to a control center, the component that sets the range at which a variable is maintained. The control center determines an appropriate response to the stimulus. In most homeostatic mechanisms the control center is the brain. The control center then sends signals to an effector, which can be muscles, organs or other structures that receive signals from the control center. After receiving the signal, a change occurs to correct the deviation by either enhancing it with positive feedback or depressing it with negative feedback

Positive feedback

Positive feedback is a mechanism by which an output is enhanced, such as protein levels. However, in order to avoid any fluctuation in the protein level, the mechanism is inhibited stochastically (I), therefore when the concentration of the activated protein (A) is past the threshold ([I]), the loop mechanism is activated and the concentration of A increases exponentially if d[A]=k [A]
Positive feedback mechanisms are designed to accelerate or enhance the output created by a stimulus that has already been activated.

Unlike negative feedback mechanisms that initiate to maintain or regulate physiological functions within a set and narrow range, the positive feedback mechanisms are designed to push levels out of normal ranges. To achieve this purpose, a series of events initiates a cascading process that builds to increase the effect of the stimulus. This process can be beneficial but is rarely used by the body due to risks of the acceleration’s becoming uncontrollable.

One positive feedback example event in the body is blood platelet accumulation, which, in turn, causes blood clotting in response to a break or tear in the lining of blood vessels. Another example is the release of oxytocin to intensify the contractions that take place during childbirth.

Negative feedback
Negative feedback mechanisms consist of reducing the output or activity of any organ or system back to its normal range of functioning. A good example of this is regulating blood pressure. Blood vessels can sense resistance of blood flow against the walls when blood pressure increases. The blood vessels act as the receptors and they relay this message to the brain. The brain then sends a message to the heart and blood vessels, both of which are the effectors. The heart rate would decrease as the blood vessels increase in diameter (or vasodilation). This change would cause the blood pressure to fall back to its normal range. The opposite would happen when blood pressure decreases, and would cause vasoconstriction.

Another important example is seen when the body is deprived of food. The body would then reset the metabolic set point to a lower than normal value. This would allow the body to continue to function, at a slower rate, even though the body is starving. Therefore, people who deprive themselves of food while trying to lose weight would find it easy to shed weight initially and much harder to lose more after. This is due to the body readjusting itself to a lower metabolic set point to allow the body to survive with its low supply of energy. Exercise can change this effect by increasing the metabolic demand.

Another good example of negative feedback mechanism is temperature control. The hypothalamus, which monitors the body temperature, is capable of determining even the slightest of variation of normal body temperature (37 degrees Celsius). Response to such variation could be stimulation of glands that produces sweat to reduce the temperature or signaling various muscles to shiver to increase body temperature.

Both feedbacks are equally important for the healthy functioning of one’s body. Complications can arise if any of the two feedbacks are affected or altered in any way.

Homeostatic imbalance
Many diseases are a result of disturbance of homeostasis, a condition known as homeostatic imbalance. As it ages, every organism will lose efficiency in its control systems. The inefficiencies gradually result in an unstable internal environment that increases the risk for illness. In addition, homeostatic imbalance is also responsible for the physical changes associated with aging. Even more serious than illness and other characteristics of aging is death. Heart failure has been seen where nominal negative feedback mechanisms become overwhelmed, and destructive positive feedback mechanisms then take over.
Diseases that result from a homeostatic imbalance include diabetes, dehydration, hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, gout, and any disease caused by a toxin present in the bloodstream. All of these conditions result from the presence of an increased amount of a particular substance. In ideal circumstances, homeostatic control mechanisms should prevent this imbalance from occurring, but, in some people, the mechanisms do not work efficiently enough or the quantity of the substance exceeds the levels at which it can be managed. In these cases, medical intervention is necessary to restore the balance, or permanent damage to the organs may result.

The Dynamic Energy Budget theory for metabolic organization delineates structure and (one or more) reserves in an organism. Its formulation is based on three forms of homeostasis:
• Strong homeostasis, whereas structure and reserve do not change in composition. Because the amount of reserve and structure can vary, this allows a particular change in the composition of the whole body (as explained by the Dynamic Energy Budget theory).
• Weak homeostasis, wherein the ratio of the amounts of reserve and structure becomes constant as long as food availability is constant, even when the organism grows. This means that the whole body composition is constant during growth in constant environments.
• Structural homeostasis, wherein the sub-individual structures grow in harmony with the whole individual; the relative proportions of the individuals remain constant.

Historically, ecological succession was seen as having a stable end-stage called the climax (see Frederic Clements), sometimes referred to as the ‘potential biodiversity’ of a site, shaped primarily by the local climate. This idea has been largely abandoned by modern ecologists in favor of nonequilibrium ideas of how ecosystems function, as most natural ecosystems experience disturbance at a rate that makes a “climax” community unattainable.

Only on small, isolated habitats known as ecological islands can the phenomenon be observed. One such case study is the island of Krakatoa after its major eruption in 1883: the established stable homeostasis of the previous forest climax ecosystem was destroyed, and all life was eliminated from the island. In the years after the eruption, Krakatoa went through a sequence of ecological changes in which successive groups of new plant or animal species followed one another, leading to increasing biodiversity and eventually culminating in a re-established climax community. This ecological succession on Krakatoa occurred in a number of stages; a sere is defined as “a stage in a sequence of events by which succession occurs”. The complete chain of seres leading to a climax is called a prisere. In the case of Krakatoa, the island reached its climax community, with eight hundred different recorded species, in 1983, one hundred years after the eruption that cleared all life off the island. Evidence confirms that this number has been homeostatic for some time, with the introduction of new species rapidly leading to elimination of old ones. The evidence of Krakatoa, and other disturbed island ecosystems, has confirmed many principles of Island Biogeography, mimicking general principles of ecological succession albeit in a virtually closed system comprised almost exclusively of endemic species.

In the Gaia hypothesis, James Lovelock stated that the entire mass of living matter on Earth (or any planet with life) functions as a vast homeostatic superorganism that actively modifies its planetary environment to produce the environmental conditions necessary for its own survival. In this view, the entire planet maintains homeostasis. Whether this sort of system is present on Earth is still open to debate. However, some relatively simple homeostatic mechanisms are generally accepted. For example, when atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, certain plants are able to grow better and thus act to remove more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. When sunlight is plentiful and atmospheric temperature climbs, the phytoplankton of the ocean surface waters thrive and produce more dimethyl sulfide, DMS. The DMS molecules act as cloud condensation nuclei, which produce more clouds, and thus increase the atmospheric albedo, and this feeds back to lower the temperature of the atmosphere. As scientists discover more about Earth, vast numbers of positive and negative feedback loops are being discovered, that, together, maintain a metastable condition, sometimes within very broad range of environmental conditions. Environmental pressure, such as competition or change in temperature, can lead to adaptation/extinction of species over time.