Survival mechanisms of vertebrate ectotherms at subfreezing temperatures: Applications in cryomedicine

J. P. Costanzo, R. E. Lee, A. L. DeVries, T. Wang, J. R. Layne

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Various marine fishes, amphibians, and reptiles survive at temperatures several degrees below the freezing point of their body fluids by virtue of adaptive mechanisms that promote freeze avoidance or freeze tolerance. Freezing is avoided by a colligative depression of the blood freezing point, supercooling of the body fluids, or the biosynthesis of unique antifreeze proteins that inhibit the propagation of ice within body fluids. Conversely, freeze tolerance is an adaptation for the survival of tissue freezing under ecologically relevant thermal and temporal conditions that is conferred by the biosynthesis of permeating carbohydrate cryoprotectants and an extensive dehydration of tissues and organs. Such cryoprotective responses, invoked by the onset of freezing, mitigate the osmotic stress associated with freeze- concentration of cytoplasm, attendant metabolic perturbations, and physical damage. Cryomedical research has historically relied on mammalian models for experimentation even though endotherms do not naturally experience subfreezing temperatures. Some vertebrate ectotherms have 'solved' not only the problem of freezing individual tissues and organs, but also that of simultaneously freezing all organ systems. An emerging paradigm in cryomedicine is the application of principles governing natural cold hardiness to the development of protocols for the cryopreservation of mammalian tissues and organs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)351-358
Number of pages8
JournalFASEB Journal
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1995
Externally publishedYes


  • antifreeze
  • cryopreservation
  • cryoprotection
  • dehydration
  • freeze tolerance
  • hypothermia
  • supercooling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Biochemistry
  • Molecular Biology
  • Genetics


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