The Journal of experimental biology
Hibernation evolved in some small mammals that live in cold environments, presumably to conserve energy when food supplies are low. Throughout the winter, hibernators cycle spontaneously between torpor, with low metabolism and near-freezing body temperatures, and euthermia, with high metabolism and body temperatures near 37°C. Understanding the mechanisms underlying this natural model of extreme metabolic plasticity is important for fundamental and applied science. During entrance into torpor, reductions in metabolic rate begin before body temperatures fall, even when thermogenesis is not active, suggesting active mechanisms of metabolic suppression, rather than passive thermal effects. Mitochondrial respiration is suppressed during torpor, especially when measured in liver mitochondria fuelled with succinate at 37°C in vitro. This suppression of mitochondrial metabolism appears to be invoked quickly during entrance into torpor when body temperature is high, but is reversed slowly during arousal when body temperature is low. This pattern may reflect body temperature-sensitive, enzyme-mediated post-translational modifications of oxidative phosphorylation complexes, for instance by phosphorylation or acetylation.