Hibernation torpor provides an excellent natural model of tolerance to profound reductions in blood flow to the brain and other organs. Here, we report that during torpor of 13-lined ground squirrels, massive SUMOylation occurs in the brain, liver, and kidney. The level of small ubiquitin-related modifier (SUMO) conjugation coincides with the expression level of Ubc9, the SUMO specific E2-conjugating enzyme. Hypothermia alone also increased SUMO conjugation, but not as markedly as hibernation torpor. Increased SUMO conjugation (induced by Ubc9 overexpression, ischemic preconditioning (PC)±hypothermia) was necessary and sufficient for tolerance of SHSY5Y neuroblastoma cells to oxygen/glucose deprivation (OGD) ('in vitro ischemia'); decreased SUMO conjugation (induced by a dominant-negative Ubc9) severely reduced tolerance to OGD in these cells. These data indicate that post-translational modification of proteins by SUMOylation is a prominent feature of hibernation torpor and is critical for cytoprotection by ischemic PC±hypothermia in SHSY5Y cells subjected to OGD.
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