Metabolic cycles in a circannual hibernator

Physiol Genomics. 2011 Jul 14;43(13):799-807. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00028.2011. Epub 2011 May 3.


Hibernation as manifested in ground squirrels is arguably the most plastic and extreme of physiological phenotypes in mammals. Homeostasis is challenged by prolonged fasting accompanied by heterothermy, yet must be facilitated for survival. We performed LC and GC-MS metabolomic profiling of plasma samples taken reproducibly during seven natural stages of the hibernator's year, three in summer and four in winter (each n ≥ 5), employing a nontargeted approach to define the metabolite shifts associated with the phenotype. We quantified 231 named metabolites; 106 of these altered significantly, demarcating a cycle within a cycle where torpor-arousal cycles recur during the winter portion of the seasonal cycle. A number of robust hibernation biomarkers that alter with season and winter stage are identified, including specific free fatty acids, antioxidants, and previously unpublished modified amino acids that are likely to be associated with the fasting state. The major pattern in metabolite levels is one of either depletion or accrual during torpor, followed by reversal to an apparent homeostatic level by interbout arousal. This finding provides new data that strongly support the predictions of a long-standing hypothesis that periodic arousals are necessary to restore metabolic homeostasis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Body Temperature / physiology
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / physiology*
  • Metabolomics
  • Sciuridae / blood
  • Sciuridae / physiology*
  • Seasons