Mammalian hibernation: cellular and molecular responses to depressed metabolism and low temperature

Physiol Rev. 2003 Oct;83(4):1153-81. doi: 10.1152/physrev.00008.2003.


Mammalian hibernators undergo a remarkable phenotypic switch that involves profound changes in physiology, morphology, and behavior in response to periods of unfavorable environmental conditions. The ability to hibernate is found throughout the class Mammalia and appears to involve differential expression of genes common to all mammals, rather than the induction of novel gene products unique to the hibernating state. The hibernation season is characterized by extended bouts of torpor, during which minimal body temperature (Tb) can fall as low as -2.9 degrees C and metabolism can be reduced to 1% of euthermic rates. Many global biochemical and physiological processes exploit low temperatures to lower reaction rates but retain the ability to resume full activity upon rewarming. Other critical functions must continue at physiologically relevant levels during torpor and be precisely regulated even at Tb values near 0 degrees C. Research using new tools of molecular and cellular biology is beginning to reveal how hibernators survive repeated cycles of torpor and arousal during the hibernation season. Comprehensive approaches that exploit advances in genomic and proteomic technologies are needed to further define the differentially expressed genes that distinguish the summer euthermic from winter hibernating states. Detailed understanding of hibernation from the molecular to organismal levels should enable the translation of this information to the development of a variety of hypothermic and hypometabolic strategies to improve outcomes for human and animal health.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature / physiology*
  • Cold Temperature
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Mammals