1. Winter survival for numerous cold-blooded animals includes freeze tolerance: the ability to endure the conversion of as much as 65% of total body water into extracellular ice. Selected molecular adaptations underlying freeze tolerance (e.g. cryoprotectants, ice nucleating proteins) have been widely studied, but the full range of metabolic adjustments needed for freeze endurance remains unknown. 2. Recent studies using gene screening techniques are providing a different approach to the search for biochemical responses that support freezing survival by identifying genes and proteins that are up- regulated by freezing or thawing in freeze-tolerant amphibians and reptiles. 3. Screening of a cDNA library from wood frog liver revealed the freeze- induced up-regulation of genes coding for the α- and γ-subunits of fibrinogen (a plasma clotting protein), the mitochondrial ADP/ATP translocase and a novel 10 kDa protein containing a nuclear exporting sequence. 4. Northern blotting revealed that these genes were differentially responsive to two of the component stresses of freezing (dehydration and anoxia), indicating that different genes are induced by signals radiating either from cell volume change or oxygen deprivation during freezing. 5. Freeze up- regulation of fibrinogen synthesis in liver and other organs appears to be a damage repair response that anticipates a need for enhanced plasma clotting capacity to deal with ice crystal damage to capillary beds. 6. Up-regulation of ADP/ATP translocase in frog liver is linked with ischaemia resistance and studies with freeze-tolerant turtles have shown that other genes encoding proteins involved in mitochondrial energetics (NADH-ubiquinone oxidoreductase subunit 5, cytochrome C oxidase subunit 1) are also up-regulated by both anoxia and freezing exposures. 7. These studies are making major advances in our understanding of freeze tolerance as a natural phenomenon and also highlight new key areas that can be targeted by applied interventions for the optimization of medical cryopreservation techniques for cells, tissues and organs.

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Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology
Department of Biology

Storey, K. (1999). Living in the cold: Freeze-induced gene responses in freeze-tolerant vertebrates. In Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology (Vol. 26, pp. 57–63). doi:10.1046/j.1440-1681.1999.02990.x