The wood frog, Rana sylvatica, survives sub-zero winter temperatures by undergoing full body freezing for weeks at a time, during which it displays no measurable brain activity, no breathing, and a flat-lined heart. Freezing is a hypometabolic state characterized by a global suppression of gene expression that is elicited in part by transcription factors that coordinate the activation of vital pro-survival pathways. Smad transcription factors respond to TGF-β signalling and are involved in numerous cellular functions from development to stress. Given the identity of genes they regulate, we hypothesized that they may be involved in coordinating gene expression during freezing. Protein expression of Smad1/2/3/4/5 in response to freezing was examined in 24 h frozen and 8 h thawed wood frog tissues using western immunoblotting, with the determination of subcellular localization in muscle and liver tissues. Transcript levels of smad2, smad4 and downstream genes (serpine1, myostatin, and tsc22d3) were measured by RT-PCR. Tissue-specific responses were observed during freezing where brain, heart, and liver had elevated levels of pSmad3, and skeletal muscle and kidneys had increased levels of pSmad1/5 and pSmad2 during freeze/thaw cycle, while protein and transcript levels remained constant. There were increases in nuclear levels of pSmad2 in muscle and pSmad3 in liver. Transcript levels of serpine1 were induced in heart, muscle, and liver, myostatin in muscle, and tsc22d3 in heart, and liver during freezing. These results suggest a novel freeze-responsive activation of Smad proteins that may play an important role in coordinating pro-survival gene networks necessary for freeze tolerance.

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Keywords Gene regulation, Myostatin, Rana sylvatica, Serpine1, TGF-β signalling, tsc22d3, Vertebrate freeze tolerance
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Journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - B Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Aguilar, O.A. (Oscar A.), Hadj-Moussa, H. (Hanane), & Storey, K. (2016). Regulation of SMAD transcription factors during freezing in the freeze tolerant wood frog, Rana sylvatica. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology - B Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 201, 64–71. doi:10.1016/j.cbpb.2016.07.003