Transcriptome profiling reveals enhanced mitochondrial activity as a cold adaptive strategy to hypothermia in zebrafish muscle

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The utilisation of synthetic torpor for interplanetary travel once seemed farfetched. However, mounting evidence points to torpor-induced protective benefits from the main hazards of space travel, namely, exposure to radiation and microgravity. To determine the radio-protective effects of an induced torpor-like state we exploited the ectothermic nature of the Danio rerio (zebrafish) in reducing their body temperatures to replicate the hypothermic states seen during natural torpor. We also administered melatonin as a sedative to reduce physical activity. Zebrafish were then exposed to low-dose radiation (0.3 Gy) to simulate radiation exposure on long-term space missions. Transcriptomic analysis found that radiation exposure led to an upregulation of inflammatory and immune signatures and a differentiation and regeneration phenotype driven by STAT3 and MYOD1 transcription factors. In addition, DNA repair processes were downregulated in the muscle two days’ post-irradiation. The effects of hypothermia led to an increase in mitochondrial translation including genes involved in oxidative phosphorylation and a downregulation of extracellular matrix and developmental genes. Upon radiation exposure, increases in endoplasmic reticulum stress genes were observed in a torpor+radiation group with downregulation of immune-related and ECM genes. Exposing hypothermic zebrafish to radiation also resulted in a downregulation of ECM and developmental genes however, immune/inflammatory related pathways were downregulated in contrast to that observed in the radiation only group. A cross-species comparison was performed with the muscle of hibernating Ursus arctos horribilis (brown bear) to define shared mechanisms of cold tolerance. Shared responses show an upregulation of protein translation and metabolism of amino acids, as well as a hypoxia response with the shared downregulation of glycolysis, ECM, and developmental genes.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1366
Number of pages15
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 11 May 2023


  • zebrafish
  • transcriptomics
  • muscle
  • radiation
  • induced torpor
  • DNA damage
  • mitochondria
  • hibernation


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