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Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2011 Aug;301(2):R370-7. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00748.2010. Epub 2011 May 25.

Preference of IRES-mediated initiation of translation during hibernation in golden-mantled ground squirrels, Spermophilus lateralis.

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School of Life Sciences, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.


Mammalian hibernation involves virtual cessation of energetically consumptive processes normally vital to homeostasis, including gene transcription and protein synthesis. As animals enter torpor, the bulk of initiation of translation is blocked at a body temperature of 18°C in golden-mantled ground squirrels [Spermophilus (Callospermophilus) lateralis]. Previous data demonstrated regulation of cap-dependent initiation of translation during torpor. We asked what happens to cap-independent, specifically, internal ribosome entry site (IRES)-mediated initiation of translation during hibernation. We analyzed polysome fractions for mRNAs that are known to contain or not to contain IRES elements. Here, we show that mRNAs harboring IRES elements preferentially associate with ribosomes as a torpor bout progresses. Squirrels allowed to naturally complete a torpor cycle have a higher IRES preference index than those animals that are prematurely aroused from torpor. Data indicate that this change in preference is not associated with gene expression, i.e., change is due to change in mRNA association with ribosomes as opposed to mRNA abundance. Thus, although processes like transcription and translation are virtually arrested during torpor, ribosomes are preferentially loaded with IRES-containing transcripts when squirrels arouse from torpor and translation resumes. Differential translation of preexisting mRNAs may allow for the preferential production of key stress proteins critical for survival of physiological insults that are lethal to other mammals.

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