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Michael Himbeault (CC BY 2.0)

Rodent brains reveal triggers of hibernation

When animals drop their body temperature and slow their metabolism to hibernate, a group of neurons at the base of the brain may be pulling the strings. That conclusion, from two rodent studies published in Nature this week by independent teams, is a step toward understanding the biological basis of suspended animation—and maybe someday even triggering it in humans for long-distance space travel, The Scientist reports. One team kept mice in a cold environment without food to induce torpor, a short period of suspended animation; the researchers then identified a set of neurons in a regulatory brain region called the hypothalamus that could later be reactivated to send mice back into that state. Another team unexpectedly found it could induce a prolonged state of torpor in mice and rats by stimulating hypothalamus cells expressing a pyroglutamylated RF-amide peptide. The next steps are to gauge the overlap between the two sets of neurons and figure out how exactly they act to quiet the body.

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