Prioritization of skeletal muscle growth for emergence from hibernation

J Exp Biol. 2015 Jan 15;218(Pt 2):276-84. doi: 10.1242/jeb.109512. Epub 2014 Dec 1.


Mammalian hibernators provide an extreme example of naturally occurring challenges to muscle homeostasis. The annual hibernation cycle is characterized by shifts between summer euthermy with tissue anabolism and accumulation of body fat reserves, and winter heterothermy with fasting and tissue catabolism. The circannual patterns of skeletal muscle remodelling must accommodate extended inactivity during winter torpor, the motor requirements of transient winter active periods, and sustained activity following spring emergence. Muscle volume in thirteen-lined ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) calculated from MRI upper hindlimb images (n=6 squirrels, n=10 serial scans) declined from hibernation onset, reaching a nadir in early February. Paradoxically, mean muscle volume rose sharply after February despite ongoing hibernation, and continued total body mass decline until April. Correspondingly, the ratio of muscle volume to body mass was steady during winter atrophy (October-February) but increased (+70%) from February to May, which significantly outpaced changes in liver or kidney examined by the same method. Generally stable myocyte cross-sectional area and density indicated that muscle remodelling is well regulated in this hibernator, despite vastly altered seasonal fuel and activity levels. Body composition analysis by echo MRI showed lean tissue preservation throughout hibernation amid declining fat mass by the end of winter. Muscle protein synthesis was 66% depressed in early but not late winter compared with a summer fasted baseline, while no significant changes were observed in the heart, liver or intestine, providing evidence that could support a transition in skeletal muscle regulation between early and late winter, prior to spring emergence and re-feeding.

Keywords: Disuse atrophy; Echo magnetic resonance imaging; Muscle regeneration; SUnSET; Spermophilus.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Weight
  • Female
  • Hibernation / physiology
  • Hindlimb
  • Male
  • Muscle Development / physiology*
  • Muscle Proteins / analysis
  • Muscle, Skeletal / growth & development
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Muscular Atrophy
  • Protein Biosynthesis
  • Sciuridae / growth & development
  • Sciuridae / physiology*
  • Seasons


  • Muscle Proteins