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Braz J Med Biol Res. 2013 Jan;46(1):1-13. Epub 2013 Jan 11.

Biochemical adaptations of mammalian hibernation: exploring squirrels as a perspective model for naturally induced reversible insulin resistance.

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Department of Biology, Institute of Biochemistry, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada.


An important disease among human metabolic disorders is type 2 diabetes mellitus. This disorder involves multiple physiological defects that result from high blood glucose content and eventually lead to the onset of insulin resistance. The combination of insulin resistance, increased glucose production, and decreased insulin secretion creates a diabetic metabolic environment that leads to a lifetime of management. Appropriate models are critical for the success of research. As such, a unique model providing insight into the mechanisms of reversible insulin resistance is mammalian hibernation. Hibernators, such as ground squirrels and bats, are excellent examples of animals exhibiting reversible insulin resistance, for which a rapid increase in body weight is required prior to entry into dormancy. Hibernator studies have shown differential regulation of specific molecular pathways involved in reversible resistance to insulin. The present review focuses on this growing area of research and the molecular mechanisms that regulate glucose homeostasis, and explores the roles of the Akt signaling pathway during hibernation. Here, we propose a link between hibernation, a well-documented response to periods of environmental stress, and reversible insulin resistance, potentially facilitated by key alterations in the Akt signaling network, PPAR-γ/PGC-1α regulation, and non-coding RNA expression. Coincidentally, many of the same pathways are frequently found to be dysregulated during insulin resistance in human type 2 diabetes. Hence, the molecular networks that may regulate reversible insulin resistance in hibernating mammals represent a novel approach by providing insight into medical treatment of insulin resistance in humans.

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