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Cardiovasc Res. 2000 Jul;47(1):108-15.

Increased connexin43 gap junction protein in hamster cardiomyocytes during cold acclimatization and hibernation.

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Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, University College London, Gower Street, WC1E 6BT, London, UK.



The physiology of hibernation is characterized by dramatic reductions of heart rate, respiration, metabolism, blood pressure and body temperature and by resistance to ventricular fibrillation. Gap junctions in the heart provide low resistance pathways, facilitating electrical and metabolic coupling between cardiac muscle cells for coordinated action of the heart and tissue homeostasis. The conductance of these junctions, and therefore their function, is likely to be affected by the physiological changes that take place during hibernation. Our objective was to quantitate gap junction protein levels in cold acclimatization, hibernation and arousal.


We have used specific antibodies to connexins 43 and 40, in combination with confocal microscopy, to quantitatively analyze the expression of connexin protein in hamster (Mesocricetus auratus) left ventricles in four animal groups: normal controls at euthermy, cold controls (cold-exposed animals that did not undergo hibernation), hibernating animals and animals aroused from hibernation for 2 h.


Connexin40 immunostaining was not detected in ventricular cardiomyocytes in any animal group but connexin43 was found in all groups. Connexin43 expression was significantly enhanced in hibernation and cold control ventricular cardiomyocytes. Total plaque area, numerical density and plaque size were higher in the cold controls and hibernating hamsters compared to normal controls and animals aroused from hibernation.


It is possible that the increased size and number of connexin43 gap junction plaques in the cold controls may represent a compensatory response in order to maintain sufficient gap junction communication during physiological conditions that would reduce conductance. These changes may represent a mechanism by which the hamster avoids ventricular fibrillation during hibernation and arousal.

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