Anoxia tolerance in turtles: metabolic regulation and gene expression

Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol. 2007 Jun;147(2):263-76. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpa.2006.03.019. Epub 2006 Sep 6.


Freshwater turtles of the Trachemys and Chrysemys genera are champion facultative anaerobes able to survive for several months without oxygen during winter hibernation in cold water. They have been widely used as models to identify and understand the molecular mechanisms of natural anoxia tolerance and the molecular basis of the hypoxic/ischemic injuries that occur in oxygen-sensitive systems and underlie medical problems such as heart attack and stroke. Peter L. Lutz spent much of his career investigating turtle anaerobiosis with a particular focus on the mechanisms of brain ion homeostasis and neurotransmitter responses to anoxia exposure and the mechanisms that suppress brain ion channel function and neuronal excitability during anaerobiosis. Our interests intersected over the mechanisms of metabolic rate depression which is key to long term anoxia survival. Studies in my lab have shown that a key mechanism of metabolic arrest is reversible protein phosphorylation which provides coordinated suppression of the rates of multiple ATP-producing, ATP-utilizing and related cellular processes to allow organisms to enter a stable hypometabolic state. Anoxia tolerance is also supported by selective gene expression as revealed by recent studies using cDNA library and DNA array screening. New studies with both adult T. scripta elegans and hatchling C. picta marginata have identified prominent groups of genes that are up-regulated under anoxia in turtle organs, in several cases suggesting aspects of cell function and metabolic regulation that have not previously been associated with anaerobiosis. These groups of anoxia-responsive genes include mitochondrially-encoded subunits of electron transport chain proteins, iron storage proteins, antioxidant enzymes, serine protease inhibitors, transmembrane solute carriers, neurotransmitter receptors and transporters, and shock proteins.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Hypoxia / genetics*
  • Hypoxia / metabolism*
  • Organ Specificity
  • Turtles / genetics*
  • Turtles / metabolism*


  • Calcium