Although alien to man, the ability to endure the freezing of extra-cellular body fluids during the winter has developed in several species of terrestrially hibernating frogs and turtles as well as in many species of insects and other invertebrates. Wood frogs, for example, can endure freezing for at least 2 weeks with no breathing, no heart beat or blood circulation, and with up to 65% of their total body water as ice. Our studies are providing a comprehensive view of the requirements for natural freezing survival and of the physical and metabolic protection that must be offered for effective cryopreservation of vertebrate organs. Molecular mechanisms of natural freeze tolerance in lower vertebrates include: 1) control over ice crystal growth in plasma by ice nucleating proteins, 2) the accumulation of low molecular weight cryoprotectants to minimize intracellular dehydration and stabilize macromolecular components, and 3) good ischemia tolerance by all organs that may include metabolic arrest mechanisms to reduce organ energy requirements while frozen. Cryomicroscopy of tissue slices and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of whole animals is revealing the natural mode of ice propagation through an organism. MRI has also revealed that thawing is non-uniform; core organs (with high cryoprotectant levels) melt first, facilitating the early resumption of heart beat and blood circulation. Studies of the production and actions of the natural cryoprotectant, glucose, in frogs have shown its importance in maintaining a critical minimum cell volume in frozen organs and new work on the metabolic effects of whole body dehydration in 3 species of frogs has indicated that adaptations supporting freeze tolerance grew out of mechanisms that deal with desiccation resistance in amphibians. Studies of the regulation of cryoprotectant glucose synthesis by wood frog liver have shown the role of protein kinases and of a and β adrenergic receptors in regulating the glycemie response, and of changes in membrane glucose transporter proteins to facilitate cryoprotectant distribution.

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Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research
Department of Biology

Storey, K, Mosser, D.D., Douglas, D.N., Grundy, J.E., & Storey, J. (1996). Biochemistry below 0°C: Nature's frozen vertebrates. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 29(3), 283–307.