Could hibernators hold the key to improving organ preservation?

mer squirrels is intermediate between the two. In their current study the researchers examined possible mechanisms by which a hibernating species may exhibit high tolerance to organ cold storage.


The scientists and their colleagues compared harvested livers from torpid ground squirrels, from rats (which don't hibernate), and from ground squirrels in summer (when they are not hibernating). The livers were stored at 4o C for 0-72 hours in the University of Wisconsin solution, which is the preferred solution for organ storage used world-wide. Following cold storage the livers were perfused in vitro for 60 minutes at 37o C.


The current and earlier studies have revealed several mechanisms that may be responsible for the superior resistance of hibernator livers to cold storage:

  • Greater tolerance of liver endothelial cells to withstand cold storage and warm reperfusion. Whereas many liver endothelial cells from rats die after 72 hours of cold storage, those from squirrel livers are largely unaffected by storage for this period of time. This effect likely results in better maintenance of liver microcirculation after extended cold storage, when organs are reperfused with blood after the storage period. Other preliminary evidence suggests that the proportion of the liver that is receiving flow after extended cold storage is greatly reduced in rats, but remains close to normal levels in squirrels.

  • Ground squirrels have higher levels of nitric oxide synthase (NOS) in their livers when they are hibernating compared with the summer state. This increase in NOS may help to maintain the liver microcirculation after cold storage and reperfusion, because NOS activity produces the chemical messenger nitric oxide, which is a potent vasodilator.

  • Specialized immune cells in the liver -- known as Kupffer cells -- are activated inappropriately in rat livers after long-ter

Contact: Donna Krupa
American Physiological Society

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