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IUBMB Life. 2011 Jun;63(6):419-29. doi: 10.1002/iub.463. Epub 2011 May 5.

The induction of anhydrobiosis in the sleeping chironomid: current status of our knowledge.

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Anhydrobiosis Research Unit, National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences, Tsukuba, Ibaraki 305-8634, Japan.


An African chironomid, Polypedilum vanderplanki, is the only insect known to be capable of extreme desiccation tolerance, or anhydrobiosis. In the 1950s and 1960s, Hinton strenuously studied anhydrobiosis in this insect from a physiological standpoint; however, nobody has afterward investigated the phenomenon. In 2000, research on mechanisms underlying anhydrobiosis was resumed due to successful establishment of a rearing system for P. vanderplanki. This review is focused on the latest findings on the physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying the induction of anhydrobiosis in P. vanderplanki. Early experiments demonstrated that the induction of anhydrobiosis was possible in isolated tissues and independent from the control of central nervous system. However, to achieve successful anhydrobiosis, larvae need a slow regime of desiccation, allowing them to synthesize molecules, which will protect cells and tissues against the deleterious effects of dehydration. Trehalose, a nonreducing disaccharide, which accumulates in P. vanderplanki larvae up to 20% of the dry body mass, is thought to replace the water in its tissues. Similarly, highly hydrophilic proteins called the late embryogenesis abundant (LEA) proteins are expressed in huge quantities and act as a molecular shield to protect biological molecules against aggregation and denaturation. This function is shared by heat shock proteins, which are also upregulated during the desiccation process. At the same time, desiccating larvae express various antioxidant molecules and enzymes, to cope with the massive oxidative stress, which is responsible for general damage to membranes, proteins, and DNA in dehydrating cells. Finally, specific water channels, called aquaporins, accelerate dehydration, and trehalose together with LEA proteins forms a glassy matrix, which protects the biological molecules and the structural integrity of larvae in the anhydrobiotic state.

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