Neurobiology Invited Seminar: Elena Gracheva: Cellular, Molecular, and Physiological Adaptations of Hibernation
My lab studies the molecular and cellular mechanisms of hibernation-an enigmatic physiological phenomenon present in many animals. Hibernation was first documented in 350 BCE by Aristotle, who noted that some creatures give up eating and drinking in winter while concealing themselves in a "sleep-like" state for many months. Hibernation employs a collection of flexible physiological adaptations that allow animals to thrive in inhospitable environments, where they experience thermal challenges and scarcity of food and water for extended periods of time. Almost all mammalian orders include hibernators, suggesting that hibernation results from a modification of existing traits shared by all mammals. However, until recently, the molecular mechanisms that give rise to hibernation were largely unknown.
The long-term goal of my laboratory is to understand and to harness nature's ingenious adaptations to enable induction of hibernation in non-hibernating mammals, including humans. Achieving this goal would have far-reaching implications for fundamental biology, medicine, and the future of humanity. Induction of a hibernation-like state could help improve organ transplantation, recovery from ischemia, stroke, or brain injury, and may ultimately enable long-distance space travel, e.g., for manned missions to Mars.