Combined transcriptomic and metabolomic approach uncovers molecular mechanisms of cold tolerance in a temperate flesh fly

Physiol Genomics. 2012 Aug 1;44(15):764-77. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00042.2012. Epub 2012 Jun 26.


The ability to respond rapidly to changes in temperature is critical for insects and other ectotherms living in variable environments. In a physiological process termed rapid cold-hardening (RCH), exposure to nonlethal low temperature allows many insects to significantly increase their cold tolerance in a matter of minutes to hours. Additionally, there are rapid changes in gene expression and cell physiology during recovery from cold injury, and we hypothesize that RCH may modulate some of these processes during recovery. In this study, we used a combination of transcriptomics and metabolomics to examine the molecular mechanisms of RCH and cold shock recovery in the flesh fly, Sarcophaga bullata. Surprisingly, out of ∼15,000 expressed sequence tags (ESTs) measured, no transcripts were upregulated during RCH, and likewise RCH had a minimal effect on the transcript signature during recovery from cold shock. However, during recovery from cold shock, we observed differential expression of ∼1,400 ESTs, including a number of heat shock proteins, cytoskeletal components, and genes from several cell signaling pathways. In the metabolome, RCH had a slight yet significant effect on several metabolic pathways, while cold shock resulted in dramatic increases in gluconeogenesis, amino acid synthesis, and cryoprotective polyol synthesis. Several biochemical pathways showed congruence at both the transcript and metabolite levels, indicating that coordinated changes in gene expression and metabolism contribute to recovery from cold shock. Thus, while RCH had very minor effects on gene expression, recovery from cold shock elicits sweeping changes in gene expression and metabolism along numerous cell signaling and biochemical pathways.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Cold-Shock Response / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / genetics
  • Drosophila melanogaster / physiology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Expressed Sequence Tags
  • Gene Expression Profiling / methods*
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways / genetics
  • Metabolomics / methods*
  • Principal Component Analysis
  • Sarcophagidae / genetics*
  • Sarcophagidae / growth & development
  • Sarcophagidae / metabolism
  • Sarcophagidae / physiology*
  • Software