June 5, 2023 5:41 pm

It is a classic science fiction trope: Astronauts on an interstellar journey are kept in sleek, refrigerated pods in a state of suspended animation. Though such pods stay purely fictional, scientists have pursued study into inducing a hibernation-like state in humans to lessen the harm triggered by health-related circumstances such as heart attacks and stroke, and to lessen the tension and fees of future extended-distance space sojourns.

In a study published nowadays in Nature Metabolism, scientists report that they can trigger a related state in mice by targeting aspect of their brain with pulses of ultrasound. Some specialists are calling it a main technical step toward reaching this feat in humans, whereas other people say it is a stretch to extrapolate the outcomes to our species.  

“It is an wonderful paper,” says Frank van Breukelen, a biologist who research hibernation at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and co-authored an editorial accompanying the study. The function builds on a flurry of current research that pinpoint particular populations of neurons in a area named the preoptic location (POA) of the hypothalamus. These cells act like an on-off switch for “torpor”—a sluggish, power-saving state the animals enter when they’re dangerously cold or malnourished. In prior research, scientists genetically engineered these neurons to respond to light or specific chemical substances, and identified they could bring about mice to enter a torpid state even when they had been warm and nicely-fed. Such invasive tactics cannot be very easily translated to men and women, nevertheless, Breukelen notes. “That’s truly not going to come about in men and women.”

The new ultrasound study, led by bioengineer Hong Chen and her group at Washington University in St. Louis essential no genetic engineering. Chen knew from prior study that some neurons have specialized pores named TRPM2 ion channels that adjust shape in response to ultrasonic waves, like the subset of POA cells that controls mouse torpor. To see what impact that had on the animals’ behavior, her group subsequent glued miniature, speakerlike devices on the heads of mice to concentrate these waves on the POA.

In response to a series of three.two-megahertz pulses, the rodents’ core physique temperatures dropped by about 3°C. The mice cooled off by shifting physique heat into their tails—a classic sign of torpor, Bruekelen notes—and their heart prices and metabolisms slowed. By automatically delivering extra pulses of ultrasound when the animals’ physique temperatures started to climb back up, the researchers could maintain the mice in this torpid state for up to 24 hours. When they silenced the minispeakers, the mice returned to typical, apparently with no ill consequences.

Chen’s group then repeated the experiment in 12 rats—which do not naturally go into torpor in response to cold or meals scarcity—and identified a related impact, though their physique temperatures only dropped by 1°C to 2°C. The researchers say this suggests the method may possibly function even in animals that do not ordinarily hibernate.

Breukelen says his self-assurance in the team’s outcomes is strengthened by the truth that when the researchers directed the ultrasound to other brain regions, the mice didn’t seem to enter a torpid state. That suggests the animals’ decreased metabolism was certainly triggered by stimulating especially the neurons in the POA, and not basically by “scrambling” brain functioning. “I do not feel any individual desires a therapy that relies on basically turning off the brain, and consequences be damned,” he says. He’s also encouraged that the researchers re-produced the similar impact in rats. Though humans do not naturally hibernate, the potential is identified in species from almost each mammalian lineage, from Madagascar’s fat-tailed dwarf lemur to the arctic ground squirrel. Probably humans, like the rats, also possess a hidden capacity for getting into anything akin to hibernation, he says.

Other people are not convinced. Shaun Morrison at Oregon Well being &amp Science University doubts the scientists truly observed torpor in the mice. Ultrasound stimulation warms up the brain, he says, so it is doable the researchers had been in truth activating temperature-sensitive neurons in that area, causing the animals to reduce their physique temperatures in response. Even if the impact is actual, he’s skeptical that we’ll be working with ultrasound to place astronauts into suspended animation anytime quickly. People’s brains are considerably larger than the brains of mice and the POA is buried deeper, Morrison notes, creating it considerably a lot more tricky to target with the minispeakers Chen and her colleagues employed. “This ultrasound method is quite unlikely to function in humans in the way it does in mice.”

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