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Comfortably Numb and Back: Plasma Metabolomics Reveals Biochemical Adaptations in the Hibernating 13-Lined Ground Squirrel

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posted on 19.12.2016, 00:00 by Angelo D’Alessandro, Travis Nemkov, Lori K. Bogren, Sandra L. Martin, Kirk C. Hansen
Hibernation is an evolutionary adaptation that affords some mammals the ability to exploit the cold to achieve extreme metabolic depression (torpor) while avoiding ischemia/reperfusion or hemorrhagic shock injuries. Hibernators cycle periodically out of torpor, restoring high metabolic activity. If understood at the molecular level, the adaptations underlying torpor-arousal cycles may be leveraged for translational applications in critical fields such as intensive care medicine. Here, we monitored 266 metabolites to investigate the metabolic adaptations to hibernation in plasma from 13-lined ground squirrels (57 animals, 9 time points). Results indicate that the periodic arousals foster the removal of potentially toxic oxidative stress-related metabolites, which accumulate in plasma during torpor while replenishing reservoirs of circulating catabolic substrates (free fatty acids and amino acids). Specifically, we identified metabolic fluctuations of basic amino acids lysine and arginine, one-carbon metabolism intermediates, and sulfur-containing metabolites methionine, cysteine, and cystathionine. Conversely, reperfusion injury markers such as succinate/fumarate remained relatively stable across cycles. Considering the cycles of these metabolites with the hibernator’s cycling metabolic activity together with their well-established role as substrates for the production of hydrogen sulfide (H2S), we hypothesize that these metabolic fluctuations function as a biological clock regulating torpor to arousal transitions and resistance to reperfusion during arousal.

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