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Cryobiology. 2014 Oct;69(2):333-8. doi: 10.1016/j.cryobiol.2014.08.008. Epub 2014 Sep 3.

Global DNA modifications suppress transcription in brown adipose tissue during hibernation.

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Institute of Biochemistry and Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada.
Institute of Biochemistry and Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON K1S 5B6, Canada. Electronic address:


Hibernation is crucial to winter survival for many small mammals and is characterized by prolonged periods of torpor during which strong global controls are applied to suppress energy-expensive cellular processes. We hypothesized that one strategy of energy conservation is a global reduction in gene transcription imparted by reversible modifications to DNA and to proteins involved in chromatin packing. Transcriptional regulation during hibernation was examined over euthermic control groups and five stages of the torpor/arousal cycle in brown adipose tissue of thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). Brown adipose is crucial to hibernation success because it is responsible for the non-shivering thermogenesis that rewarms animals during arousal. A direct modification of DNA during torpor was revealed by a 1.7-fold increase in global DNA methylation during long term torpor as compared with euthermic controls. Acetylation of histone H3 (on Lys23) was reduced by about 50% when squirrels entered torpor, which would result in increased chromatin packing (and transcriptional repression). This was accompanied by strong increases in histone deacetylase protein levels during torpor; e.g. HDAC1 and HDAC4 levels rose by 1.5- and 6-fold, respectively. Protein levels of two co-repressors of transcription, MBD1 and HP1, also increased by 1.9- and 1.5-fold, respectively, in long-term torpor and remained high during early arousal. MBD1, HP1 and HDACs all returned to near control values during interbout indicating a reversal of their inhibitory actions. Overall, the data presents strong evidence for a global suppression of transcription during torpor via the action of epigenetic regulatory mechanisms in brown adipose tissue of hibernating thirteen-lined ground squirrels.


DNA methylation; Ground squirrel hibernation; HP1; Histone acetylation; Ictidomys tridecemlineatus; MBD1; Transcriptional repression

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