Hypoxia tolerance in reptiles, amphibians, and fishes: life with variable oxygen availability

Annu Rev Physiol. 2007;69:145-70. doi: 10.1146/annurev.physiol.69.031905.162529.


The ability of fishes, amphibians, and reptiles to survive extremes of oxygen availability derives from a core triad of adaptations: profound metabolic suppression, tolerance of ionic and pH disturbances, and mechanisms for avoiding free-radical injury during reoxygenation. For long-term anoxic survival, enhanced storage of glycogen in critical tissues is also necessary. The diversity of body morphologies and habitats and the utilization of dormancy have resulted in a broad array of adaptations to hypoxia in lower vertebrates. For example, the most anoxia-tolerant vertebrates, painted turtles and crucian carp, meet the challenge of variable oxygen in fundamentally different ways: Turtles undergo near-suspended animation, whereas carp remain active and responsive in the absence of oxygen. Although the mechanisms of survival in both of these cases include large stores of glycogen and drastically decreased metabolism, other mechanisms, such as regulation of ion channels in excitable membranes, are apparently divergent. Common themes in the regulatory adjustments to hypoxia involve control of metabolism and ion channel conductance by protein phosphorylation. Tolerance of decreased energy charge and accumulating anaerobic end products as well as enhanced antioxidant defenses and regenerative capacities are also key to hypoxia survival in lower vertebrates.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenosine Triphosphate / metabolism
  • Amphibians / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / metabolism
  • Cold Temperature
  • Fishes / metabolism*
  • Hypothermia / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / metabolism
  • Hypoxia / physiopathology*
  • Oxygen Consumption / physiology*
  • Reptiles / metabolism*


  • Antioxidants
  • Adenosine Triphosphate