Vertebrate brains at the pilot light

Respir Physiol Neurobiol. 2004 Aug 12;141(3):285-96. doi: 10.1016/j.resp.2004.03.013.


While the brains of most vertebrates are unable to tolerate more than a few minutes of anoxia, some freshwater turtles (Trachemys and Chrysemys), crucian carp (Carassius carassius) and frogs (Rana pipens and Rana temporaria) can survive anoxia for hours to months. Obviously, anoxia tolerance has evolved separately several times and this is also reflected in the divergent strategies these animals utilize to survive without oxygen. The turtles and crucian carp defend their brain ATP levels and avoid a loss of ion homeostasis by reducing ATP use. In the turtles, the early release of adenosine and the activation of K(ATP) channels, a progressive release of GABA and a drastic reduction in electric activity and ion fluxes send the brain into a comatose like state. The crucian carp displays a more modest depression of ATP use, probably achieved through a moderated release of GABA and adenosine, allowing the animal to maintain physical activity in anoxia. The anoxic frog, on the other hand, seems to rely on mechanisms that greatly retard the anoxia induced fall in ATP levels and loss of ion homeostasis, so that the brain can be saved as long as the anoxia is limited to a few hours. The sequence of events characterizing the anoxic frog brain is similar to that of failing anoxic mammalian brain, although over a greatly extended time frame, allowing the frog to die slowly in anoxia, rather than survive. By contrast the only factor that limits anoxic survival in turtles and crucian carp may be the final depletion of their glycogen reserves.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Carps
  • Ethanol / metabolism
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Ion Channels / metabolism
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism
  • Oxygen / metabolism
  • Rana pipiens
  • Species Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Transcription Factors / metabolism
  • Turtles
  • Vertebrates


  • Ion Channels
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Transcription Factors
  • Ethanol
  • Adenosine Triphosphate
  • Oxygen