Torpor And Hypothermia: Reversed Hysteresis Of Metabolic Rate And Body Temperature

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American Journal Of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative And Comparative Physiology


Regulated torpor and unregulated hypothermia are both characterized by substantially reduced body temperature (Tb) and metabolic rate (MR), but they differ physiologically. Although the remarkable, medically interesting adaptations accompanying torpor (e.g., tolerance for cold and ischemia, absence of reperfusion injury, and disuse atrophy) often do not apply to hypothermia in homeothermic species such as humans, the terms “torpor” and “hypothermia” are often used interchangeably in the literature. To determine how these states differ functionally and to provide a reliable diagnostic tool for differentiating between these two physiologically distinct states, we examined the interrelations between Tb and MR in a mammal (Sminthopsis macroura) undergoing a bout of torpor with those of the hypothermic response of a similar-sized juvenile rat (Rattus norvegicus). Our data show that under similar thermal conditions, 1) cooling rates differ substantially (approximately fivefold) between the two states; 2) minimum MR is approximately sevenfold higher during hypothermia than during torpor despite a similar Tb; 3) rapid, endogenously fuelled rewarming occurs in torpor but not hypothermia; and 4) the hysteresis between Tb and MR during warming and cooling proceeds in opposite directions in torpor and hypothermia. We thus demonstrate clear diagnostic physiological differences between these two states that can be used experimentally to confirm whether torpor or hypothermia has occurred. Furthermore, the data can clarify the results of studies investigating the ability of physiological or pharmacological agents to induce torpor. Consequently, we recommend using the terms “torpor” and “hypothermia” in ways that are consistent with the underlying regulatory differences between these two physiological states.


hypothermia, torpor, metabolic rate, hysteresis, body temperature