Seasonal changes in brown adipose tissue mitochondria in a mammalian hibernator: from gene expression to function

Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2016 Aug 1;311(2):R325-36. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00463.2015. Epub 2016 May 25.


Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is a thermogenic organ that is vital for hibernation in mammals. Throughout the hibernation season, BAT mitochondrial uncoupling protein 1 (UCP1) enables rapid rewarming from hypothermic torpor to periodic interbout arousals (IBAs), as energy is dissipated as heat. However, BAT's unique ability to rewarm the body via nonshivering thermogenesis is not necessary outside the hibernation season, suggesting a potential seasonal change in the regulation of BAT function. Here, we examined the BAT mitochondrial proteome and mitochondrial bioenergetics in the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus) across four time points: spring, fall, torpor, and IBA. Relative mitochondrial content of BAT was estimated by measuring BAT pad mass, UCP1 protein content, and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) copy number. BAT mtDNA content was significantly lower in spring compared with torpor and IBA (P < 0.05). UCP1 mRNA and protein levels were highest during torpor and IBA. Respiration rates of isolated BAT mitochondria were interrogated at each complex of the electron transport chain. Respiration at complex II was significantly higher in torpor and IBA compared with spring (P < 0.05), suggesting an enhancement in mitochondrial respiratory capacity during hibernation. Additionally, proteomic iTRAQ labeling identified 778 BAT mitochondrial proteins. Proteins required for mitochondrial lipid translocation and β-oxidation were upregulated during torpor and IBA and downregulated in spring. These data imply that BAT bioenergetics and mitochondrial content are not static across the year, despite the year-round presence of UCP1.

Keywords: UCP1; brown adipose tissue; hibernation; mitochondria; proteomics.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / physiology*
  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / ultrastructure
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mitochondria / physiology*
  • Mitochondria / ultrastructure
  • Mitochondrial Proteins / metabolism*
  • Sciuridae / physiology*
  • Seasons*
  • Uncoupling Protein 1 / metabolism


  • Mitochondrial Proteins
  • Uncoupling Protein 1