Genes of the undead: hibernation and death display different gene profiles

FEBS Lett. 2019 Mar;593(5):527-532. doi: 10.1002/1873-3468.13338. Epub 2019 Feb 27.


A degree of regulation continues into death according to post-mortem transcriptome studies, which have identified 'zombie genes' that come alive hours and days after organismal death. We hypothesized that hibernation, representing the closest natural mammalian phenomenon to death, would display similar gene expression profiles. Exploring zombie genes using qPCR and available transcriptomic resources from multiple torpid tissues in 13-lined ground squirrels showed little in common with gene profiles observed following death. Hibernators repress transcription, surviving only on the transcripts required during profound slowdowns of metabolic rate and of most physiological functions, therefore not requiring zombie gene expression that could be the cell's last resort during stress. This is the first study to explore zombie gene responses to a near-death situation in a living system.

Keywords: Ictidomys tridecemlineatus; metabolic rate depression; squirrel; torpor; zombie.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Gene Expression Profiling*
  • Hibernation / genetics*
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism
  • RNA, Messenger / genetics
  • Sciuridae / genetics*
  • Transcriptome


  • RNA, Messenger