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Pflugers Arch. 2019 Jun;471(6):819-828. doi: 10.1007/s00424-018-2244-7. Epub 2018 Dec 19.

Hibernating astronauts-science or fiction?

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Laboratory "Translational Research Stress and Immunity", Department of Anesthesiology, Hospital of the University of Munich, Marchioninistraße 15, 81377, Munich, Germany.
Institute for Cell Biology and Neurosciences, Goethe University Frankfurt, Max-von-Lauestrasse 13, 60439, Frankfurt am Main, Germany.
Division of Neonatology and Pediatric Critical Care Medicine, University Children's Hospital, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistraße 52, 20246, Hamburg, Germany.
Animal Physiology, Faculty of Biology, Marburg University, Karl-von-Frisch-Straße 8, 35043, Marburg, Germany.


For long-duration manned space missions to Mars and beyond, reduction of astronaut metabolism by torpor, the metabolic state during hibernation of animals, would be a game changer: Water and food intake could be reduced by up to 75% and thus reducing payload of the spacecraft. Metabolic rate reduction in natural torpor is linked to profound changes in biochemical processes, i.e., shift from glycolysis to lipolysis and ketone utilization, intensive but reversible alterations in organs like the brain and kidney, and in heart rate control via Ca2+. This state would prevent degenerative processes due to organ disuse and increase resistance against radiation defects. Neuro-endocrine factors have been identified as main targets to induce torpor although the exact mechanisms are not known yet. The widespread occurrence of torpor in mammals and examples of human hypometabolic states support the idea of human torpor and its beneficial applications in medicine and space exploration.


Hibernation; Metabolism; Spaceflight; Torpor

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