Beyond the lipid hypothesis: Mechanisms underlying phenotypic plasticity in inducible cold tolerance

Scott Hayward, PA Murray, AY Gracey, AR Cossins

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24 Citations (Scopus)


The physiological adjustment of organisms in response to temperature variation is a crucial part of coping with environmental stress. An important component of the cold response is the increase in membrane lipid unsaturation, and this has been linked to an enhanced resistance to the debilitating or lethal effects of cold. Underpinning the lipid response is the upregulation of fatty acid desaturases (des), particularly those introducing double bonds at the 9-10 position of saturated fatty acids. For plants and microbes there is good genetic evidence that regulation of des genes, and the consequent changes in lipid saturation, are causally linked to generation of a cold-tolerant phenotype. In animals, however, supporting evidence is almost entirely limited to correlations of saturation with cold conditions. We describe our recent attempts to provide a direct test of this relationship by genetic manipulation of the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans. We show that this species displays a strong cold tolerant phenotype induced by prior conditioning to cold, and that this is directly linked to upregulated des activity. However, whilst genetic disruption of des activity and lipid unsaturation significantly reduced cold tolerance, animals retained a substantial component of their stress tolerant phenotype produced by cold conditioning. This indicates that mechanisms other than lipid unsaturation play an important role in cold adaptation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-142
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in Experimental Medicine and Biology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2007


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