The urothelium of a hibernator: The American black bear

David A. Spector, Jie Deng, Richard Coleman, James B. Wade

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The American black bear undergoes a 3–5 month winter hibernation during which time bears do not eat, drink, defecate, or urinate. During hibernation renal function (GFR) is 16–50% of normal but urine is reabsorbed across the urinary bladder (UB) urothelium thus enabling metabolic recycling of all urinary constituents. To elucidate the mechanism(s) whereby urine is reabsorbed, we examined the UBs of five nonhibernating wild bears using light, electron (EM), and confocal immunofluorescent (IF) microscopy–concentrating on two components of the urothelial permeability barrier – the umbrella cell apical membranes and tight junctions (TJ). Bear UB has the same tissue layers (serosa, muscularis, lamina propria, urothelia) and its urothelia has the same cell layers (basal, intermediate, umbrella cells) as other mammalians. By EM, the bear apical membrane demonstrated a typical mammalian scalloped appearance with hinge and plaque regions – the latter containing an asymmetric trilaminar membrane and, on IF, uroplakins Ia, IIIa, and IIIb. The umbrella cell TJs appeared similar to those in other mammals and also contained TJ proteins occludin and claudin - 4, and not claudin –2. Thus, we were unable to demonstrate urothelial apical membrane or TJ differences between active black bears and other mammals. Expression and localization of UT-B, AQP-1 and -3, and Na+, K+-ATPase on bear urothelial membranes was similar to that of other mammals. Similar studies of urothelia of hibernating bears, including evaluation of the apical membrane lipid bilayer and GAGs layer are warranted to elucidate the mechanism(s) whereby hibernating bears reabsorb their daily urine output and thus ensure successful hibernation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere12429
JournalPhysiological Reports
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2015


  • Black bear
  • Hibernation
  • Urinary bladder microscopy
  • Urine reabsorption
  • Urothelium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Physiology (medical)


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