Gene expression changes controlling distinct adaptations in the heart and skeletal muscle of a hibernating mammal

Physiol Genomics. 2015 Mar;47(3):58-74. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00108.2014. Epub 2015 Jan 8.


Throughout the hibernation season, the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) experiences extreme fluctuations in heart rate, metabolism, oxygen consumption, and body temperature, along with prolonged fasting and immobility. These conditions necessitate different functional requirements for the heart, which maintains contractile function throughout hibernation, and the skeletal muscle, which remains largely inactive. The adaptations used to maintain these contractile organs under such variable conditions serves as a natural model to study a variety of medically relevant conditions including heart failure and disuse atrophy. To better understand how two different muscle tissues maintain function throughout the extreme fluctuations of hibernation we performed Illumina HiSeq 2000 sequencing of cDNAs to compare the transcriptome of heart and skeletal muscle across the circannual cycle. This analysis resulted in the identification of 1,076 and 1,466 differentially expressed genes in heart and skeletal muscle, respectively. In both heart and skeletal muscle we identified a distinct cold-tolerant mechanism utilizing peroxisomal metabolism to make use of elevated levels of unsaturated depot fats. The skeletal muscle transcriptome also shows an early increase in oxidative capacity necessary for the altered fuel utilization and increased oxygen demand of shivering. Expression of the fetal gene expression profile is used to maintain cardiac tissue, either through increasing myocyte size or proliferation of resident cardiomyocytes, while skeletal muscle function and mass are protected through transcriptional regulation of pathways involved in protein turnover. This study provides insight into how two functionally distinct muscles maintain function under the extreme conditions of mammalian hibernation.

Keywords: heart; hibernation; skeletal muscle; transcriptomics.

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.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological / genetics*
  • Animals
  • Cluster Analysis
  • Fatty Acids / metabolism
  • Fetus / metabolism
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Gene Expression Regulation*
  • Glycolysis / genetics
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Hibernation / genetics*
  • Molecular Sequence Annotation
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Oligonucleotide Array Sequence Analysis
  • Organ Specificity / genetics
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Peroxisomes / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • RNA, Messenger / metabolism
  • Sciuridae / genetics*
  • Sciuridae / physiology
  • Software
  • Up-Regulation / genetics


  • Fatty Acids
  • RNA, Messenger