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Quantitative model analysis of the resting membrane potential in insect skeletal muscle: Implications for low temperature tolerance

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Abiotic stressors, such as cold exposure, can depolarize insect cells substantially causing cold coma and cell death. During cold exposure, insect skeletal muscle depolarization occurs through a 2-stage process. Firstly, short-term cold exposure reduces the activity of electrogenic ion pumps, which depolarize insect muscle markedly. Secondly, during long-term cold exposure, extracellular ion homeostasis is disrupted causing further depolarization. Consequently, many cold hardy insects improve membrane potential stability during cold exposure through adaptations that secure maintenance of ion homeostasis during cold exposure. Less is known about the adaptations permitting cold hardy insects to maintain membrane potential stability during the initial phase of cold exposure, before ion balance is disrupted. To address this problem it is critical to understand the membrane components (channels and transporters) that determine the membrane potential and to examine this question the present study constructed a mathematical “charge difference” model of the insect muscle membrane potential. This model was parameterized with known literature values for ion permeabilities, ion concentrations and membrane capacitance and the model was then further developed by comparing model predictions against empirical measurements following pharmacological inhibitors of the Na+/K+ ATPase, Cl channels and symporters. Subsequently, we compared simulated and recorded membrane potentials at 0 and 31 °C and at 10–50 mM extracellular [K+] to examine if the model could describe membrane potentials during the perturbations occurring during cold exposure. Our results confirm the importance of both Na+/K+ ATPase activity and ion-selective Na+, K+ and Cl channels, but the model also highlights that additional electroneutral flux of Na+ and K+ is needed to describe how membrane potentials respond to temperature and [K+] in insect muscle. While considerable further work is still needed, we argue that this “charge difference” model can be used to generate testable hypotheses of how insects can preserve membrane polarization in the face of stressful cold exposure.

Original languageEnglish
Article number110970
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology -Part A : Molecular and Integrative Physiology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Elsevier Inc.

    Research areas

  • Cold exposure, Depolarization, Electrogenic ion transport, Insect, Membrane potential

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