Biochemical insights into the mechanisms central to the response of mammalian cells to cold stress and subsequent rewarming


C. M. Smales, Protein Science Group, Department of Biosciences, University of Kent, Canterbury, Kent CT2 7NJ, UK
Fax: +44 01227 763912
Tel: +44 01227 823746


Mammalian cells cultured in vitro are able to recover from cold stress. However, the mechanisms activated during cold stress and recovery are still being determined. We here report the effects of hypothermia on cellular architecture, cell cycle progression, mRNA stability, protein synthesis and degradation in three mammalian cell lines. The cellular structures examined were, in general, well maintained during mild hypothermia (27–32 °C) but became increasingly disrupted at low temperatures (4–10 °C). The degradation rates of all mRNAs and proteins examined were much reduced at 27 °C, and overall protein synthesis rates were gradually reduced with temperature down to 20 °C. Proteins involved in a range of cellular activities were either upregulated or downregulated at 32 and 27 °C during cold stress and recovery. Many of these proteins were molecular chaperones, but they did not include the inducible heat shock protein Hsp72. Further detailed investigation of specific proteins revealed that the responses to cold stress and recovery are at least partially controlled by modulation of p53, Grp75 and eIF3i levels. Furthermore, under conditions of severe cold stress (4 °C), lipid-containing structures were observed that appeared to be in the process of being secreted from the cell that were not observed at less severe cold stress temperatures. Our findings shed light on the mechanisms involved and activated in mammalian cells upon cold stress and recovery.