When exposed to low temperatures, many insect species enter a reversible comatose state (chill coma), which is driven by a failure of neuromuscular function. Chill coma and chill coma recovery have been associated with a loss and recovery of ion-homeostasis (particularly extracellular [K+]) and accordingly onset of chill coma has been hypothesised to result from depolarization of membrane potential caused by loss of ion-homeostasis. Here we examined whether onset of chill coma is associated with a disturbance in ion balance by examining the correlation between disruption of ion homeostasis and onset of chill coma in locusts exposed to cold at varying rates of cooling. Chill coma onset temperature changed maximally 1°C under different cooling rates and marked disturbances of ion homeostasis were not observed at any of the cooling rates. In a second set of experiments we used isolated tibial muscle to determine how temperature and extracellular [K+], independently and together, affect tetanic force production. Tetanic force decreased by 80% when temperature was reduced from 23°C to 0.5°C, while an increase in extracellular [K+] from 10 mM to 30 mM at 23°C caused a 40% reduction in force. Combining these two stressors almost abolished force production. Thus, low temperature alone may be responsible for chill coma entry, rather than a disruption of extracellular K+ homeostasis. Since [K+] also has a large effect on tetanic force production, it is hypothesized that recovery of extracellular [K+] following chill coma could be important for the time to recovery of normal neuromuscular function.
Journal of Experimental Biology, 2014, Vol 217, Issue 8, p. 1297-1306