Green-striped burrowing frogs (Cyclorana alboguttata) survive in arid environments by burrowing underground and entering into a deep, prolonged metabolic depression known as estivation. Throughout estivation, C. alboguttata is immobilized within a cast-like cocoon of shed skin and ceases feeding and moving. Remarkably, these frogs exhibit very little muscle atrophy despite extended disuse and fasting. Little is known about the transcriptional regulation of estivation or associated mechanisms that may minimize degradative pathways of atrophy. To investigate transcriptional pathways associated with metabolic depression and maintenance of muscle function in estivating burrowing frogs, we assembled a skeletal muscle transcriptome using next-generation short read sequencing and compared gene expression patterns between active and 4 mo estivating C. alboguttata. This identified a complex suite of gene expression changes that occur in muscle during estivation and provides evidence that estivation in burrowing frogs involves transcriptional regulation of genes associated with cytoskeletal remodeling, avoidance of oxidative stress, energy metabolism, the cell stress response, and apoptotic signaling. In particular, the expression levels of genes encoding cell cycle and prosurvival proteins, such as serine/threonine-protein kinase Chk1, cell division protein kinase 2, survivin, and vesicular overexpressed in cancer prosurvival protein 1, were upregulated during estivation. These data suggest that estivating C. alboguttata are able to regulate the expression of genes in several major cellular pathways critical to the survival and viability of cells, thus preserving muscle function while avoiding the deleterious consequences often seen in laboratory models of muscle disuse.
Keywords: RNA-Seq; aestivation; apoptosis; dormancy; survivin.