Changes in the phosphoproteome of brown adipose tissue during hibernation in the ground squirrel, Ictidomys tridecemlineatus

Physiol Genomics. 2017 Sep 1;49(9):462-472. doi: 10.1152/physiolgenomics.00038.2017. Epub 2017 Jul 10.


Mammalian hibernation is characterized by metabolic rate depression and a strong decrease in core body temperature that together create energy savings such that most species do not have to eat over the winter months. Brown adipose tissue (BAT), a thermogenic tissue that uses uncoupled mitochondrial respiration to generate heat instead of ATP, plays a major role in rewarming from deep torpor. In the present study we developed a label-free liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS) strategy to investigate both differential protein expression and protein phosphorylation in BAT extracts from euthermic vs. hibernating ground squirrels (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). In particular, we incorporated the filter-assisted sample preparation protocol, which provides a more in-depth analysis compared with gel-based and other LC-MS proteomics approaches. Surprisingly, mitochondrial membrane and matrix protein expression in BAT was largely constant between active euthermic squirrels and their hibernating counterparts. Validation by immunoblotting confirmed that the protein levels of mitochondrial respiratory chain complexes were largely unchanged in hibernating vs. euthermic animals. On the other hand, phosphoproteomics revealed that pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) phosphorylation increased during squirrel hibernation, confirmed by immunoblotting with phospho-specific antibodies. PDH phosphorylation leads to its inactivation, which suggests that BAT carbohydrate oxidation is inhibited during hibernation. Phosphorylation of hormone-sensitive lipase (HSL) was also found to increase during hibernation, suggesting that HSL would be active in BAT to produce the fatty acids that are likely the primary fuel for thermogenesis upon arousal. Increased perilipin phosphorylation along with that of a number of other proteins was also revealed, emphasizing the importance of protein phosphorylation as a regulatory mechanism during mammalian hibernation.

Keywords: AMPK; HSL; metabolic depression; mitochondrial protein expression; perilipin; protein phosphorylation.

MeSH terms

  • Adipose Tissue, Brown / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Chromatography, Liquid
  • Hibernation / physiology*
  • Male
  • Phosphopeptides / metabolism
  • Phosphoproteins / metabolism*
  • Phosphorylation
  • Proteome / metabolism*
  • Proteomics
  • Sciuridae / physiology*
  • Tandem Mass Spectrometry


  • Phosphopeptides
  • Phosphoproteins
  • Proteome