Central nervous system shutdown underlies acute cold tolerance in tropical and temperate Drosophila species

J Exp Biol. 2018 Jun 15;221(Pt 12):jeb179598. doi: 10.1242/jeb.179598.


When cooled, insects first lose their ability to perform coordinated movements (CTmin) after which they enter chill coma (chill coma onset, CCO). Both these behaviours are popular measures of cold tolerance that correlate remarkably well with species distribution. To identify and understand the neuromuscular impairment that causes CTmin and CCO we used inter- and intraspecific model systems of Drosophila species that have varying cold tolerance as a consequence of adaptation or cold acclimation. Our results demonstrate that CTmin and CCO correlate strongly with a spreading depolarization (SD) within the central nervous system (CNS). We show that this SD is associated with a rapid increase in extracellular [K+] within the CNS causing neuronal depolarization that silences the CNS. The CNS shutdown is likely to be caused by a mismatch between passive and active ion transport within the CNS and in a different set of experiments we examine inter- and intraspecific differences in sensitivity to SD events during anoxic exposure. These experiments show that cold adapted or acclimated flies are better able to maintain ionoregulatory balance when active transport is compromised within the CNS. Combined, we demonstrate that a key mechanism underlying chill coma entry of Drosophila is CNS shutdown, and the ability to prevent this CNS shutdown is therefore an important component of acute cold tolerance, thermal adaptation and cold acclimation in insects.

Keywords: CNS; CTmin; Chill coma; Chill tolerance; Ion balance; Spreading depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Animals
  • Central Nervous System / physiology
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Drosophila / physiology*
  • Environment
  • Ion Transport / physiology*
  • Species Specificity