When temperatures plummet below 0 °C, wood frogs (Rana sylvatica) can endure the freezing of up to ~ 65% of their body water in extracellular ice masses, displaying no measurable brain activity, no breathing, no movement, and a flat-lined heart. To aid survival, frogs retreat into a state of suspended animation characterized by global suppression of metabolic functions and reprioritization of energy usage to essential survival processes that is elicited, in part, by the regulatory controls of microRNAs. The present study is the first to investigate miRNA biogenesis and regulation in the brain of a freeze tolerant vertebrate. Indeed, proper brain function and adaptations to environmental stimuli play a crucial role in coordinating stress responses. Immunoblotting of miRNA biogenesis factors illustrated an overall reduction in the majority of these processing proteins suggesting a potential suppression of miRNA maturation over the freeze–thaw cycle. This was coupled with a large-scale RT-qPCR analysis of relative expression levels of 113 microRNA species in the brains of control, 24 h frozen, and 8 h thawed R. sylvatica. Of the 41 microRNAs differentially regulated during freezing and thawing, only two were significantly upregulated. Bioinformatic target enrichment of the downregulated miRNAs, performed at the low temperatures experienced during freezing and thawing, predicted their involvement in the potential activation of various neuroprotective processes such as synaptic signaling, intracellular signal transduction, and anoxia/ischemia injury protection. The predominantly downregulated microRNA fingerprint identified herein suggests a microRNA-mediated cryoprotective mechanism responsible for maintaining neuronal functions and facilitating successful whole brain freezing and thawing.

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Keywords Cryoprotection, FINDTAR3, miRNA, Rana sylvatica, Wood frog
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00018-018-2821-0
Journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences
Hadj-Moussa, H. (Hanane), & Storey, K. (2018). Micromanaging freeze tolerance: the biogenesis and regulation of neuroprotective microRNAs in frozen brains. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences, 1–13. doi:10.1007/s00018-018-2821-0