It has long been suspected that urea accumulation plays a key role in the induction or maintenance of metabolic suppression during extended dormancy in animals from diverse taxa. However, little evidence supporting that hypothesis in living systems exists. We measured aerobic metabolism of isolated organs from the wood frog (Rana sylvatica) in the presence or absence of elevated urea at various temperatures using frogs acclimatized to different seasons. The depressive effect of urea on metabolism was not consistent across organs, seasons, or temperatures. None of the organs from summer frogs, which were tested at 20 degrees C, or from winter frogs tested at 4 degrees C were affected by urea treatment. However, liver, stomach, and heart from spring frogs tested at 4 degrees C had significantly lower metabolic rates when treated with urea as compared with control samples. Additionally, when organs from winter frogs were tested at 10 degrees C, metabolism was significantly decreased in urea-treated liver and stomach by approximately 15% and in urea-treated skeletal muscle by approximately 50%. Our results suggest that the presence of urea depresses the metabolism of living organs, and thereby reduces energy expenditure, but its effect varies with temperature and seasonal acclimatization. The impact of our findings may be wide ranging owing to the number of diverse organisms that accumulate urea during dormancy.
(c) 2008 Wiley-Liss, Inc.