Protein synthesis (PS) has been considered essential to sustain mammalian life, yet was found to be virtually arrested for weeks in brain and other organs of the hibernating ground squirrel, Spermophilus tridecemlineatus. PS, in vivo, was below the limit of autoradiographic detection in brain sections and, in brain extracts, was determined to be 0.04% of the average rate from active squirrels. Further, it was reduced 3- fold in cell-free extracts from hibernating brain at 37°C, eliminating hypothermia as the only cause for protein synthesis inhibition (active, 0.47 ± 0.08 pmol/mg protein per min; hibernator, 0.16 ± 0.05 pmol/mg protein per min, P < 0.001). PS suppression involved blocks of initiation and elongation, and its onset coincided with the early transition phase into hibernation. An increased monosome peak with moderate ribosomal disaggregation in polysome profiles and the greatly increased phosphorylation of eIF2α are both consistent with an initiation block in hibernators. The elongation block was demonstrated by a 3-fold increase in ribosomal mean transit times in cell- free extracts from hibernators (active, 2.4 ± 0.7 min; hibernator, 7.1 ± 1.4 min, P < 0.001). No abnormalities of ribosomal function or mRNA levels were detected. These findings implicate suppression of PS as a component of the regulated shutdown of cellular function that permits hibernating ground squirrels to tolerate 'trickle' blood flow and reduced substrate and oxygen availability. Further study of the factors that control these phenomena may lead to identification of the molecular mechanisms that regulate this state.