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Hibernation and Heart Health

Tim Griffin and colleagues use multiomics to study how ground squirrels’ hearts adapt to hibernation.
Ground squirrel

“Because we had all this genomic data, we were able to assemble RNA sequencing data to create a template to predict proteins."

Tim Griffin, director of the Center for Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry, co-authored a study published in the Journal of Proteome Research on the mechanisms that protect ground squirrels’ hearts during hibernation. The study, led by Matt Andrews (University of Minnesota-Duluth), used proteogenomic approaches to develop a more nuanced understanding of the mammal’s cardioadaptive strategies.

The lower body temperature, heart rate, metabolism and oxygen consumption that go along with hibernation pose significant physiological challenges for mammals, especially their hearts. Griffin and colleagues used the Galaxy-P multiomic data analysis platform, which provides a more holistic view of the interplay between RNA and proteins, to compare genomic data and protein expression in ground squirrels.

“We had a lot of genomic data — transcribed RNA within these hibernating animals — pointing to genes that are turned off and on during hibernation,” says Griffin, but since ground squirrels aren’t a model organism, the researchers faced a longstanding barrier: accessing enough information about the proteins present. That’s where multiomics comes in. “Because we had all this genomic data, we were able to assemble RNA sequencing data to create a template to predict proteins. In effect, we were able to generate the data you would associate with a model organism from a single source.”

The researchers monitored changes in the ground squirrels’ protein expression during different stages of hibernation and compared these results against the squirrel’s recently sequenced genome. They found dozens of proteins and protein signaling pathways that are expressed differently during hibernation. Griffin and Andrews note that these insights may be translated into therapies to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease in humans in the future.

Related: A step toward understanding how hibernation protects hearts

– Stephanie Xenos / December 2015