78811 - Environmental Physiology

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Good health and well-being Climate Action Life on land

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

The student knows the principles of living species environmental physiology (how the living organism obtains and maintains the homeostasis at molecular, cellular and tissue levels, in the context of changes in the surrounding environment; the nutritional characteristics of foods, nutritional status, expenditure and energy needs, the physiological use of nutrients in the diet, the psychophysiological and neurobiological foundations of the behavior and cognitive and emotional interaction between the subject and the environment).

Course contents

Physiology: definition and general concepts. Levels of organization of living organisms and related fields of study. Structure-function relationship. Internal environment and external environment. Extracellular and intracellular body fluids: distribution and composition. Homeostasis: definition and general concepts. Homeostatic answers and strategies.
Integration of functions. Control systems: sensors, integration centers, effector.
Regulation of body functions: hormonal, nervous and neuroendocrine regulation. Self-regulation. Mechanisms and feedback circuits. Cellular, central and peripheral receptors. Physical and chemical sensors.
Stress: definition and generality. The phases of stress: alarm, exhaustion and resistance. Autonomous, behavioral, neuroendocrine, immune responses. Overview on the Central and Peripheral Nervous System (in particular the Autonomous Nervous System). Recalls on the Endocrine System (Hypophysis, Thyroid and Adrenal Glands). Acute and chronic stress. Fight or Flight" and "Tend and Be Friend" response.
Physiology of sleep. Consciousness: definition and phases. Sleep: sleep phases, polysomnography, sleep-wake cycle regulation. Individual sleep variables, hypnogram and sleep cycle. Acute and chronic sleep deprivation. Acute and chronic consequences (physiological and economic). Sleep quantity and quality. Compensation of sleep deprivation. Shifter's syndrome.
Definition and generality of circadian rhythms. Types of circadian rhythms. Properties of circadian rhythms. Physiological circadian rhythms. Environmental circadian rhythms. The circadian clock: components and their integration. Zeitgeber. Oscillations and entrainment. The epiphysis. Molecular bases of circadian rhythms. Melatonin: role and mechanism of action. Applications in pharmacology and technology.
Endocrine modulators. Definition and classification. Hormonal targets: hormone receptors and metabolism of steroid and thyroid, peptide, protein and amine hormones. An example of endocrine modulation: persistent polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Dioxins and PCBs. Distribution, environmental effects and human physiology. Pesticides and pesticides with interfering action: the example of chlorpyrifos. Phthalates, heavy metals and industrial solvents and alkylphenols. The case of bisphenol A: mechanism of action and health effects. Working exposures to endocrine modulators: agricultural and industrial sectors (electronics industry, dyes, pigments and paints; plastic, rubber and petrochemical industry; shipbuilding, fiberglass production, metallurgical and galvanic industry). Epidemiological investigations: methodological limitations.


G.E. Folk Jr., M.L. Riedesel, D.L. Thrift

Principles of integrative environmental physiology.

Austin & Winfield Publishers

Teaching methods

The course consists of 3 frontal CFU, corresponding to 24 hours of lectures.

Assessment methods

End of course exam aims to assess the achievement of the following learning objectives:
- Knowing the regulators of human physiologic omeostasis
- Knowing the main chemical factors that perturb physiologic homeostasis
- Knowing the physical factors that perturb physiologic homeostasis
The final score for the course "Environmental Physiology" is defined by an oral test on the average of scores obtained in at least three specific questions on topics related to the main objectives of the course.

Teaching tools

Computer with projector.


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Links to further information


Office hours

See the website of Tiziana Guarnieri