Vertebrate cell death in energy-limited conditions and how to avoid it: what we might learn from mammalian hibernators and other stress-tolerant vertebrates

Apoptosis. 2010 Mar;15(3):386-99. doi: 10.1007/s10495-010-0467-y.


Dormancy in vertebrates may expose cells to acidosis, hypoxia/anoxia, oxidative damage, and extremes in temperature. All of these insults are known to be pro-apoptotic in typical vertebrate cells, especially mammals. Since dormancy is presumably the result of a need for energy conservation, the inherent energetic demand of replenishing cells that underwent apoptosis seems at odds with this strategy. This review will discuss processes to mitigate apoptosis and how these processes might be regulated in stress-tolerant vertebrates such as mammalian hibernators. As data directly addressing such issues are scarce and often conflicting, an apparently complex regulation of apoptosis seems to be at work. For example, apoptosis is mitigated during dormancy, key signaling events including the activation of caspase-3 may still occur. However, both passive, temperature-induced depression of apoptotic signaling as well as active suppression of apoptosis appear to work in synergy in these systems. In many instances cell death is prevented by simply avoiding the cellular triggers (e.g. leakage of proteins from the mitochondria or increases in intracellular calcium) that initiate apoptotic signaling. In this review we discuss what is known about programmed cell death in these under-studied models and highlight features of their physiology that likely support survival in the face of conditions that would induce cell death in typical vertebrate cells.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cell Death
  • Energy Metabolism / physiology*
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Mammals / physiology*
  • Stress, Physiological*