Mammalian hibernation: a naturally reversible model for insulin resistance in man?

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Mammalian hibernators such as ground squirrels store massive amounts of fat each autumn. These fat depots serve as the main source of metabolic fuel throughout the winter, gradually decreasing over a period of months until the animals emerge from hibernation each spring. Fat deposition occurs on an approximately annual, i.e. on a circannual, basis. Although this rhythm occurs in the absence of environmental temperature and light cues, it is entrained by the length of daylight, with peak fat deposition occurring as days shorten in the autumn. Here we examine the circannual cycle of hibernation, and then explore the similarities and differences between the obligatory, yet reversible, natural obesity and accompanying insulin resistance of natural hibernation, and the pandemic of human obesity and metabolic syndrome.

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