Maintenance of slow type I myosin protein and mRNA expression in overwintering prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus and ludovicianus) and black bears (Ursus americanus)

Document Type


Publication Date



Biology | Comparative and Evolutionary Physiology | Zoology


Hibernating mammals have the remarkable ability to withstand long periods of fasting and reduced activity with dramatic maintenance of skeletal muscle function and protein composition. We investigated several hindlimb muscles of white-tailed prairie dogs (Cynomys leucurus) and black bears (Ursus americanus), two very different hibernators who are dormant and fasting during winter. The black-tailed prairie dog (C. ludovicianus) remains active during winter, but suffers minor skeletal muscle atrophy; nevertheless, they also demonstrate apparent skeletal muscle adaptations. Using SDS-PAGE, we measured myosin protein isoform profiles before and after the hibernation season. All species maintained or increased levels of slow myosin, despite the collective physiological challenges of hypophagia and reduced activity. This contrasts markedly with standard mammalian models of skeletal muscle inactivity and atrophy predicting significant loss of slow myosin. A mechanism for changes in myosin isoforms was investigated using reverse-transcription PCR, following partial sequencing of the adult MHC isoforms in C. leucurus and U. americanus. However, mRNA expression was not well correlated with changes in MHC protein isoforms, and other synthesis and degradation pathways may be involved besides transcriptional control. The muscles of hibernating mammals demonstrate surprising and varied physiological responses to inactivity and atrophy with respect to slow MHC expression.