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Am J Physiol. 1990 Mar;258(3 Pt 2):R559-68.

Life in a frozen state: adaptive strategies for natural freeze tolerance in amphibians and reptiles.

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Institute of Biochemistry, Carleton University, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


Winter survival for various species of amphibians and reptiles that hibernate on land depends on freeze tolerance, the ability to survive for long periods of time with up to 65% of total body water as extracellular ice. Freeze tolerance has been described for four species of frogs, one salamander, and hatchlings of the painted turtle. A very limited tolerance also occurs in garter snakes. Studies of freeze tolerance in vertebrates have primarily focused on the wood frog Rana sylvatica and have assessed the regulation of cryoprotectant synthesis, cryoprotectant action in freezing preservation of isolated cells and tissues, metabolism and energetics under the ischemic conditions imposed by freezing, and the role of ice-nucleating agents in blood. The adaptations that preserve life at subzero temperatures for these animals illustrate the principles of vertebrate organ cryopreservation and may have important applications in the development of technology for the freezing preservation of transplantable human organs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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