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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The Skeletal Biology of Hibernating Woodchucks (Marmota monax)
by Doherty, Alison H., Ph.D., Kent State University, 2013, 269; 10630933
Abstract (Summary)

Long periods of inactivity in most mammals lead to significant bone loss that may not be completely recovered during an individual's lifetime regardless of future activity. Extended bouts of inactivity are the norm for hibernating mammals. It remains largely unknown, however, how these animals avoid adversely affecting bone, their quality, and ultimately survival given the challenges posed to their skeletons by inactivity and nutritional deprivation during hibernation. The primary goal of this project was to identify the physiological mechanisms regulating bone density, area and strength during extended periods of annual inactivity in hibernating woodchucks (Marmota monax). The overall hypothesis that bone integrity is unaffected by several months of inactivity during hibernation in woodchucks was tested across multiple levels of biological function. To gain a holistic assessment of seasonal bone integrity, the locomotor behavior and estimated stresses acting on woodchuck bones were investigated in conjunction with computed tomography scans and three-point bending tests to determine bone density, geometry, and mechanical properties of the long bones throughout the year. In addition, serum protein expression was examined to ascertain bone resorption and formation processes indicative of overall annual skeletal health. It was determined that woodchucks avoid significant changes in gait preference, but experience a decrease in bending stresses acting on distal limb bones following hibernation. Computed tomography scans indicated that bone mass, distribution, and trabecular structure are maintained in these animals throughout the year. Surprisingly, cortical density increased significantly posthibernation. Furthermore, three-point bending tests revealed that although less stiff, woodchuck femora were just as tough during the hibernation season, unlike brittle bones associated with osteoporosis. Finally, bone serum markers suggested a net maintenance of bone resorption and formation processes throughout the year. Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that woodchucks do not lose bone to the extent that would be expected from a non-hibernating animal during four months of inactivity. It is concluded that bone integrity is not adversely affected by hibernation in woodchucks. The results of this work have several broader implications toward skeletal biology research, the evolution of skeletal plasticity, and biomedical applications to osteoporosis prevention and treatment.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Vinyard, Christopher J.
Commitee: Geldenhuys, Werner, J, Horton, Walter, E, Landis, William, J, Thewissen, J.G.M, Van der Schyf, Cornelis, J, White, Donald, L
School: Kent State University
Department: Biomedical Sciences
School Location: United States -- Ohio
Source: DAI-A 78/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Comparative literature, Biology, Evolution and Development, Biomedical engineering, Physiology
Keywords: Bone mass, Hibernation, Osteoporosis, Physical inactivity, Skeletal plasticity, Woodchucks
Publication Number: 10630933
ISBN: 978-0-355-01259-0
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