Metabolic depression in animals: physiological perspectives and biochemical generalizations

Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 1999 Feb;74(1):1-40. doi: 10.1017/s0006323198005258.


Depression of metabolic rate has been recorded for virtually all major animal phyla in response to environmental stress. The extent of depression is usually measured as the ratio of the depressed metabolic rate to the normal resting metabolic rate. Metabolic rate is sometimes only depressed to approx. 80% of the resting value (i.e. a depression of approx. 20% of resting); it is more commonly 5-40% of resting (i.e. a depression of approx. 60-95% of resting); extreme depression is to 1% or less of resting, or even to an unmeasurably low metabolic rate (i.e. a depression of approx. 99-100% of resting). We have examined the resting and depressed metabolic rate of animals as a function of their body mass, corrected to a common temperature. This allometric approach allows ready comparison of the absolute level of both resting and depressed metabolic rate for various animals, and suggests three general patterns of metabolic depression. Firstly, metabolic depression to approx. 0.05-0.4 of rest is a common and remarkably consistent pattern for various non-cryptobiotic animals (e.g. molluscs, earthworms, crustaceans, fishes, amphibians, reptiles). This extent of metabolic depression is typical for dormant animals with 'intrinsic' depression, i.e. reduction of metabolic rate in anticipation of adverse environmental conditions but without substantial changes to their ionic or osmotic status, or state of body water. Some of these types of animal are able to survive anoxia for limited periods, and their anaerobic metabolic depression is also to approx. 0.05-0.4 of resting. Metabolic depression to much less than 0.2 of resting is apparent for some 'resting', 'over-wintering' or diapaused eggs of these animals, but this can be due to early developmental arrest so that the egg has a low 'metabolic mass' of developed tissue (compared to the overall mass of the egg) with no metabolic depression, rather than having metabolic depression of the entire cell mass. A profound decrease in metabolic rate occurs in hibernating (or aestivating) mammals and birds during torpor, e.g. to less than 0.01 of pre-torpor metabolic rate, but there is often no intrinsic metabolic depression in addition to that reduction in metabolic rate due to readjustment of thermoregulatory control and a decrease in body temperature with a concommitant Q10 effect. There may be a modest intrinsic metabolic depression for some species in shallow torpor (to approx. 0.86) and a more substantial metabolic depression for deep torpor (approx. 0.6), but any energy saving accruing from this intrinsic depression is small compared to the substantial savings accrued from the readjustment of thermoregulation and the Q10 effect. Secondly, a more extreme pattern of metabolic depression (to < 0.05 of rest) is evident for cryptobiotic animals. For these animals there is a profound change in their internal environment--for anoxybiotic animals there is an absence of oxygen and for osmobiotic, anhydrobiotic or cryobiotic animals there is an alteration of the ionic/osmotic balance or state of body water. Some normally aerobic animals can tolerate anoxia for considerable periods, and their duration of tolerance is inversely related to their magnitude of metabolic depression; anaerobic metabolic rate can be less than 0.005 of resting. The metabolic rate of anhydrobiotic animals is often so low as to be unmeasurable, if not zero. Thus, anhydrobiosis is the ultimate strategy for eggs or other stages of the life cycle to survive extended periods of environmental stress. Thirdly, a pattern of absence of metabolism when normally hydrated (as opposed to anhydrobiotic or cryobiotic) is apparently unique to diapaused eggs of the brine-shrimp (Artemia spp., an anostracan crustacean) during anoxia. The apparent complete metabolic depression of anoxic yet hydrated cysts (and extreme metabolic depression of normoxic, hypoxic, or osmobiotic, yet hydrated cysts), is an obvious exception to the above patterns. (ABST

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animal Population Groups / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Metabolism / physiology*