Metabolic Flexibility: Hibernation, Torpor, and Estivation

Compr Physiol. 2016 Mar 15;6(2):737-71. doi: 10.1002/cphy.c140064.


Many environmental conditions can constrain the ability of animals to obtain sufficient food energy, or transform that food energy into useful chemical forms. To survive extended periods under such conditions animals must suppress metabolic rate to conserve energy, water, or oxygen. Amongst small endotherms, this metabolic suppression is accompanied by and, in some cases, facilitated by a decrease in core body temperature-hibernation or daily torpor-though significant metabolic suppression can be achieved even with only modest cooling. Within some ectotherms, winter metabolic suppression exceeds the passive effects of cooling. During dry seasons, estivating ectotherms can reduce metabolism without changes in body temperature, conserving energy reserves, and reducing gas exchange and its inevitable loss of water vapor. This overview explores the similarities and differences of metabolic suppression among these states within adult animals (excluding developmental diapause), and integrates levels of organization from the whole animal to the genome, where possible. Several similarities among these states are highlighted, including patterns and regulation of metabolic balance, fuel use, and mitochondrial metabolism. Differences among models are also apparent, particularly in whether the metabolic suppression is intrinsic to the tissue or depends on the whole-animal response. While in these hypometabolic states, tissues from many animals are tolerant of hypoxia/anoxia, ischemia/reperfusion, and disuse. These natural models may, therefore, serve as valuable and instructive models for biomedical research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Energy Metabolism*
  • Estivation / physiology*
  • Hibernation / physiology*