Futile cycling of protons across the mitochondrial inner membrane accounts for 20 % or more of the total standard metabolic rate of a rat. Approximately 15 % of this total is due to proton leakage inside the skeletal muscle alone. This study examined whether the rate of proton leak is down-regulated as a part of a coordinated response to energy conservation during metabolic depression in cold-submerged frogs. We compared the proton leak rate of skeletal muscle mitochondria isolated from frogs at different stages of hibernation (control, 1 month and 4 months of submergence in normoxia and hypoxia). The kinetics of mitochondrial proton leak rate was unaltered throughout normoxic and hypoxic submergence. The state 4 respiration rates did not differ between control animals and frogs hibernating in normoxia. In contrast, the state 4 respiration rates obtained from frogs submerged in hypoxic water for 4 months were half those of control animals. This 50 % reduction in respiration rate in hypoxic hibernation was due to a reduction in electron transport chain activity and consequent decrease in mitochondrial membrane potential. We conclude that proton leak rate is reduced during metabolic depression as a secondary result of a decrease in electron transport chain activity, but that the proton conductance is unchanged. In addition, we show that the rate of proton leakage and the activity of the electron transport chain are lower in frogs than in rats, strengthening the observation that mitochondria from ectotherms have a lower proton conductance than mitochondria from endotherms.

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