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Physiol Genomics. 2006 Apr 13;25(2):346-53. Epub 2006 Feb 7.

Detection of differential gene expression in brown adipose tissue of hibernating arctic ground squirrels with mouse microarrays.

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Institute of Arctic Biology, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, Alaska 99775, USA.


Hibernation is an energy-saving strategy adopted by a wide range of mammals to survive highly seasonal or unpredictable environments. Arctic ground squirrels living in Alaska provide an extreme example, with 6- to 9-mo-long hibernation seasons when body temperature alternates between levels near 0 degrees C during torpor and 37 degrees C during arousal episodes. Heat production during hibernation is provided, in part, by nonshivering thermogenesis that occurs in large deposits of brown adipose tissue (BAT). BAT is active at tissue temperatures from 0 to 37 degrees C during rewarming and continuously at near 0 degrees C during torpor in subfreezing conditions. Despite its crucial role in hibernation, the global gene expression patterns in BAT during hibernation compared with the nonhibernation season remain largely unknown. We report a large-scale study of differential gene expression in BAT between winter hibernating and summer active arctic ground squirrels using mouse microarrays. Selected differentially expressed genes identified on the arrays were validated by quantitative real-time PCR using ground squirrel specific primers. Our results show that the mRNA levels of the genes involved in nearly every step of the biochemical pathway leading to nonshivering thermogenesis are significantly increased in BAT during hibernation, whereas those of genes involved in protein biosynthesis are significantly decreased compared with summer active animals in August. Surprisingly, the differentially expressed genes also include adipocyte differentiation-related protein or adipophilin (Adfp), gap junction protein 1 (Gja1), and secreted protein acidic and cysteine-rich (Sparc), which may play a role in enhancing thermogenesis at low tissue temperatures in BAT.

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