Hibernating mammals have the ability to decrease their metabolic rate and survive up to 6 months without food in an inactive state where body temperatures approach 0°C. In hibernating 13-lined ground squirrels (Spermophilus tridecemlineatus), oxygen consumption holds at 1/30 to 1/50 of the aroused condition and heart rates are as low as 3–10 beats/min, compared with 200–300 beats/min when the animal is active. This seasonal adaptation requires a metabolic shift away from the oxidation of carbohydrates and towards the combustion of stored fatty acids as the primary source of energy. A key element in this fuel switch is the differential expression of the gene encoding pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase isoenzyme 4. Pyruvate dehydrogenase kinase isoenzyme 4 inhibits pyruvate dehydrogenase and thus minimizes carbohydrate oxidation by preventing the flow of glycolytic products into the tricarboxylic acid cycle. Hibernators also exploit the low-temperature activity of PTL (pancreatic triacylglycerol lipase) in both heart and white adipose tissue. Lipolytic activity at body temperatures associated with hibernation was examined using recombinant ground squirrel and human PTL expressed in yeast. Enzymes from both humans and ground squirrel displayed high activity at temperatures as low as 0°C and showed Q10=1.2–1.5 over the temperature range 37–7°C. These studies indicate that low-temperature lipolysis is a general property of PTL and does not require protein modifications unique to mammalian cells and/or the hibernating state.

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