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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2010 Feb;298(2):R329-40. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00416.2009. Epub 2009 Nov 18.

Seasonal proteomic changes reveal molecular adaptations to preserve and replenish liver proteins during ground squirrel hibernation.

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  • 1Dept. of Cell and Developmental Biology, Univ. of Colorado School of Medicine, PO Box 6511, MS 8108, Aurora, CO 80045, USA.


Hibernators are unique among mammals in their ability to survive extended periods of time with core body temperatures near freezing and with dramatically reduced heart, respiratory, and metabolic rates in a state known as torpor. To gain insight into the molecular events underlying this remarkable physiological phenotype, we applied a proteomic screening approach to identify liver proteins that differ between the summer active (SA) and the entrance (Ent) phase of winter hibernation in 13-lined ground squirrels. The relative abundance of 1,600 protein spots separated on two-dimensional gels was quantitatively determined using fluorescence difference gel electrophoresis, and 74 unique proteins exhibiting significant differences between the two states were identified using liquid chromatography followed by tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS). Proteins elevated in Ent hibernators included liver fatty acid-binding protein, fatty acid transporter, and 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl-CoA synthase, which support the known metabolic fuel switch to lipid and ketone body utilization in winter. Several proteins involved in protein stability and protein folding were also elevated in the Ent phase, consistent with previous findings. In contrast to transcript screening results, there was a surprising increase in the abundance of proteins involved in protein synthesis during Ent hibernation, including several initiation and elongation factors. This finding, coupled with decreased abundance of numerous proteins involved in amino acid and nitrogen metabolism, supports the intriguing hypothesis that the mechanism of protein preservation and resynthesis is used by hibernating ground squirrels to help avoid nitrogen toxicity and ensure preservation of essential amino acids throughout the long winter fast.

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