Winter survival for many animal species depends freeze tolerance, a capacity to endure the conversion of as much as 65–70% of total body water into extracellular ice while reorganizing metabolism to provide cells with cryoprotection against insults that include prolonged ischemia and hyperosmotic stress. Natural freeze tolerance involves not just de novo preservation mechanisms such as synthesis of high levels of cryoprotectants or novel proteins that manage ice formation, but also requires attention to and co-ordination of many cellular processes. The present review examines recent studies of the freeze-tolerant wood frog (Rana sylvatica) that probed previously unexplored areas of metabolic adaptation for freezing survival, with a particular emphasis on mitochondria. Post-translational controls on enzyme function play a prominent role in resculpting metabolic responses of the wood frog to freezing including reversible phosphorylation control over fuel processing at the pyruvate dehydrogenase locus and modulation of antioxidant defense enzymes (Mn-SOD, catalase). Enzymes involved in mitochondrial nitrogen metabolism (glutamate dehydrogenase, carbamoyl phosphate synthetase) are also differentially regulated during freezing but by different post-translational modifications including ADP-ribosylation, lysine acetylation or glutarylation. The action of microRNAs in mediating post-translational controls on gene expression aid the suppression of energy-expensive (cell cycle) or destructive (apoptosis) processes in the frozen state while also providing storage of transcripts that will be immediately available for repair or reactivation of metabolic processes after thawing. The effects of low temperature in strengthening mRNA–microRNA interactions can also provide a passive mechanism of metabolic suppression in the frozen state.

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Department of Biology

Storey, K, & Storey, J. (2019). Mitochondria, metabolic control and microRNA: Advances in understanding amphibian freeze tolerance. BioFactors. doi:10.1002/biof.1511