Consider this question: How much calcium could a hibernating woodchuck's heart cells sequester if they could sequester calcium?
More than enough, it turns out, to protect the animals from cardiac arrhythmias - abnormal heart rhythms such as ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation that can lead to sudden cardiac death - according to a new study of the hibernating animals that may provide insight into arrhythmia therapies. The findings will be presented at a poster session at the 56th Annual Meeting of the Biophysical Society (BPS), which will take place Feb. 25-29 in San Diego, Calif.
Bear and bats can be roused from their slumber by external stimuli. But woodchucks (Marmota monax), also known as groundhogs, are "true hibernators," which means they can enter a profoundly altered physiological state: their body temperature drops to near-ambient levels (often as low as freezing) and heart and respiration rates slow dramatically. Despite - or perhaps because of - these changes, hibernating animals have been found to be more resistant to cardiac arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death.
The overall effect, Xie says, is a "higher resistance to arrhythmia in woodchucks in winter. Understanding these cardiac adaptive mechanisms in hibernators may suggest new strategies to protect non-hibernating animals, especially humans, from fatal cardiac arrhythmias induced by hypothermic stresses and myocardial ischemia."
Xie and his colleagues conducted the work with funding from the National Institutes of Health and in collaboration with Stephen Vatner, director of the UMDNJ-New Jersey Medical School Cardiovascular Research Center.
The presentation, "Calcium handling properties in a hibernating animal: Insights into antiarrhythmic mechanisms," is at 1:45 on Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012, in the San Diego Convention Center, Hall FGH. ABSTRACT: http://tinyurl.com/7mtrp4a