Dynamic temperature-sensitive A-to-I RNA editing in the brain of a heterothermic mammal during hibernation

RNA. 2018 Nov;24(11):1481-1495. doi: 10.1261/rna.066522.118. Epub 2018 Jul 31.


RNA editing diversifies genomically encoded information to expand the complexity of the transcriptome. In ectothermic organisms, including Drosophila and Cephalopoda, where body temperature mirrors ambient temperature, decreases in environmental temperature lead to increases in A-to-I RNA editing and cause amino acid recoding events that are thought to be adaptive responses to temperature fluctuations. In contrast, endothermic mammals, including humans and mice, typically maintain a constant body temperature despite environmental changes. Here, A-to-I editing primarily targets repeat elements, rarely results in the recoding of amino acids, and plays a critical role in innate immune tolerance. Hibernating ground squirrels provide a unique opportunity to examine RNA editing in a heterothermic mammal whose body temperature varies over 30°C and can be maintained at 5°C for many days during torpor. We profiled the transcriptome in three brain regions at six physiological states to quantify RNA editing and determine whether cold-induced RNA editing modifies the transcriptome as a potential mechanism for neuroprotection at low temperature during hibernation. We identified 5165 A-to-I editing sites in 1205 genes with dynamically increased editing after prolonged cold exposure. The majority (99.6%) of the cold-increased editing sites are outside of previously annotated coding regions, 82.7% lie in SINE-derived repeats, and 12 sites are predicted to recode amino acids. Additionally, A-to-I editing frequencies increase with increasing cold-exposure, demonstrating that ADAR remains active during torpor. Our findings suggest that dynamic A-to-I editing at low body temperature may provide a neuroprotective mechanism to limit aberrant dsRNA accumulation during torpor in the mammalian hibernator.

Keywords: ADAR; RNA-editing; hibernation; temperature adaptation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / metabolism*
  • Evolution, Molecular
  • Gene Expression Profiling
  • Gene Expression Regulation
  • Hibernation / genetics*
  • Mammals / genetics*
  • RNA Editing*
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sciuridae
  • Temperature*
  • Torpor / genetics
  • Transcriptome


  • RNA, Messenger