For many animals, survival of severe environmental stress (e.g. to extremes of heat or cold, drought, oxygen limitation, food deprivation) is aided by entry into a hypometabolic state. Strong depression of metabolic rate, often to only 1-20% of normal resting rate, is a core survival strategy of multiple forms of hypometabolism across the animal kingdom, including hibernation, anaerobiosis, aestivation and freeze tolerance. Global biochemical controls are needed to suppress and reprioritize energy use; one such well-studied control is reversible protein phosphorylation. Recently, we turned our attention to the idea that mechanisms previously associated mainly with epigenetic regulation can also contribute to reversible suppression of gene expression in hypometabolic states. Indeed, situations as diverse as mammalian hibernation and turtle anoxia tolerance show coordinated changes in histone post-translational modifications (acetylation, phosphorylation) and activities of histone deacetylases, consistent with their use as mechanisms for suppressing gene expression during hypometabolism. Other potential mechanisms of gene silencing in hypometabolic states include altered expression of miRNAs that can provide post-transcriptional suppression of mRNA translation and the formation of ribonuclear protein bodies in the nucleus and cytoplasm to allow storage of mRNA transcripts until animals rouse themselves again. Furthermore, mechanisms first identified in epigenetic regulation (e.g. protein acetylation) are now proving to apply to many central metabolic enzymes (e.g. lactate dehydrogenase), suggesting a new layer of regulatory control that can contribute to coordinating the depression of metabolic rate.

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Keywords Anoxia tolerance, Hibernation, Histone control, Metabolic rate depression, MiRNA, Posttranslational modification, RNA-binding proteins
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Journal Journal of Experimental Biology
Storey, K. (2015). Regulation of hypometabolism: Insights into epigenetic controls. Journal of Experimental Biology (Vol. 218, pp. 150–159). doi:10.1242/jeb.106369