Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 184, Issue 3, pp 371–383

Membrane adaptation in phospholipids and cholesterol in the widely distributed, freeze-tolerant wood frog, Rana sylvatica


    • Department of ZoologyMiami University
  • Richard E. LeeJr.
    • Department of ZoologyMiami University
  • Jon P. Costanzo
    • Department of ZoologyMiami University
Original Paper

DOI: 10.1007/s00360-014-0805-4

Cite this article as:
Reynolds, A.M., Lee, R.E. & Costanzo, J.P. J Comp Physiol B (2014) 184: 371. doi:10.1007/s00360-014-0805-4


Maintaining proper membrane phase and fluidity is important for preserving membrane structure and function, and by altering membrane lipid composition many organisms can adapt to changing environmental conditions. We compared the phospholipid and cholesterol composition of liver and brain plasma membranes in the freeze-tolerant wood frog, Rana sylvatica, from southern Ohio and Interior Alaska during summer, fall, and winter. We also compared membranes from winter-acclimatized frogs from Ohio that were either acclimated to 0, 4, or 10 °C, or frozen to −2.5 °C and sampled before or after thawing. Lipids were extracted from isolated membranes, separated by one-dimensional thin-layer chromatography, and analyzed via densitometry. Liver membranes underwent seasonal changes in phospholipid composition and lipid ratios, including a winter increase in phosphatidylethanolamine, which serves to increase fluidity. However, whereas Ohioan frogs decreased phosphatidylcholine and increased sphingomyelin, Alaskan frogs only decreased phosphatidylserine, indicating that these phenotypes use different adaptive strategies to meet the functional needs of their membranes. Liver membranes showed no seasonal variation in cholesterol abundance, though membranes from Alaskan frogs contained relatively less cholesterol, consistent with the need for greater fluidity in a colder environment. No lipid changed seasonally in brain membranes in either population. In the thermal acclimation experiment, cold exposure induced an increase in phosphatidylethanolamine in liver membranes and a decrease in cholesterol in brain membranes. No changes occurred during freezing and thawing in membranes from either organ. Wood frogs use tissue-specific membrane adaptation of phospholipids and cholesterol to respond to changing environmental factors, particularly temperature, though not with freezing.


Membrane adaptationPhospholipidsCholesterolEnvironmental stressFreeze toleranceRana sylvatica

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2014