A recently discovered hormone may play a major role in triggering and maintaining hibernation. The finding could shed light on this annual period of slumber, which largely remains a mystery even after decades of research.
Each year, species ranging from amphibians to rodents settle in for a long winter's nap, which helps them conserve energy and other resources during harsh weather. Their body temperatures plummet to near freezing, and metabolisms slow.
Researchers are eager to understand hibernation because it seems to protect slumbering animals from a variety of ills, including hypothermia, strokes, muscle atrophy, infections, and cancer—a defense that might someday be emulated in people.