Activation of Respiratory Muscles Does Not Occur During Cold-Submergence in Bullfrogs, Lithobates Catesbeianus

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Semiaquatic frogs may not breathe air for several months because they overwinter in ice-covered ponds. In contrast to many vertebrates that experience decreased motor performance after inactivity, bullfrogs, Lithobates catesbeianus, retain functional respiratory motor processes following cold-submergence. Unlike mammalian hibernators with unloaded limb muscles and inactive locomotor systems, respiratory mechanics of frogs counterintuitively allow for ventilatory maneuvers when submerged. Thus, we hypothesized that bullfrogs generate respiratory motor patterns during cold-submergence to avoid disuse and preserve motor performance. Accordingly, we measured activity of respiratory muscles (buccal floor compressor and glottal dilator) via electromyography in freely behaving bullfrogs at 20 and 2°C. Although we confirm that ventilation cycles occur underwater at 20°C, bullfrogs did not activate either respiratory muscle when submerged acutely or chronically at 2°C. We conclude that cold-submerged bullfrogs endure respiratory motor inactivity, implying that other mechanisms, excluding underwater muscle activation, maintain a functional respiratory motor system throughout overwintering.