In the current study, the researchers first demonstrated that hibernation in chipmunks is strictly controlled by an individual's internal circannual rhythm even under conditions of constant cold. In 20 hibernators examined throughout their lives, concentrations of HPc in the blood started to decrease prior to hibernation and remained low throughout the inactive state. Hibernation ended after blood HPc levels rose.
Further study revealed an inverse relationship between HPc levels in the blood and brain. While HPc levels dipped in blood, the putative hormone rose dramatically in cerebral spinal fluid, they reported. Likewise, HPc levels decreased abruptly in spinal fluid when hibernation terminated.
The researchers also found that blocking the activity of one of the HP complex proteins in the brain with antibody greatly decreased the hibernation time during which the chipmunks maintained a lowered body temperature, suggesting its critical role in the brain's capacity for dormancy.
The researchers propose that HPc in the blood is actively transported into the spinal fluid in response to the animals' natural rhythm. The hibernation complex might also play a role in the seasonal behavior changes of animal species that do not hibernate, the researchers suggested.
For example, the complex could moderate physiological events such as reproduction in seasonally breeding mammals and migration in birds, they said. Even humans can maintain seasonal rhythms as exhibited by seasonal affective disorder, a recurrent depression characterized by increased sleep, overeating, and weight gain--behaviors similar to those seen in hibernators, Ohtsu noted.
"Hibernation is an extreme response to a seasonal environment, yet we knew almost nothing about how it is timed, nor how vital cellular functions are sustained in the face of plummeting body temperature," wrote Michael Hastings in a preview. The re