Seasonal and Regional Differences in Gene Expression in the Brain of a Hibernating Mammal

Christine Schwartz, Marshall E Hampton, Matthew T. Andrews

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

99 Scopus citations


Mammalian hibernation presents a unique opportunity to study naturally occurring neuroprotection. Hibernating ground squirrels undergo rapid and extreme physiological changes in body temperature, oxygen consumption, and heart rate without suffering neurological damage from ischemia and reperfusion injury. Different brain regions show markedly different activity during the torpor/arousal cycle: the cerebral cortex shows activity only during the periodic returns to normothermia, while the hypothalamus is active over the entire temperature range. Therefore, region-specific neuroprotective strategies must exist to permit this compartmentalized spectrum of activity. In this study, we use the Illumina HiSeq platform to compare the transcriptomes of these two brain regions at four collection points across the hibernation season: April Active, October Active, Torpor, and IBA. In the cerebral cortex, 1,085 genes were found to be differentially expressed across collection points, while 1,063 genes were differentially expressed in the hypothalamus. Comparison of these transcripts indicates that the cerebral cortex and hypothalamus implement very different strategies during hibernation, showing less than 20% of these differentially expressed genes in common. The cerebral cortex transcriptome shows evidence of remodeling and plasticity during hibernation, including transcripts for the presynaptic cytomatrix proteins bassoon and piccolo, and extracellular matrix components, including laminins and collagens. Conversely, the hypothalamic transcriptome displays upregulation of transcripts involved in damage response signaling and protein turnover during hibernation, including the DNA damage repair gene RAD50 and ubiquitin E3 ligases UBR1 and UBR5. Additionally, the hypothalamus transcriptome also provides evidence of potential mechanisms underlying the hibernation phenotype, including feeding and satiety signaling, seasonal timing mechanisms, and fuel utilization. This study provides insight into potential neuroprotective strategies and hibernation control mechanisms, and also specifically shows that the hibernator brain exhibits both seasonal and regional differences in mRNA expression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere58427
JournalPloS one
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 20 2013


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