Champagne, C D, et al., A Profile of Carbohydrate Metabolites in the Fasting Northern Elephant Seal. Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology, Part D, 2013. 8(2): 141-151.


Northern elephant seals endure prolonged periods of food deprivation at multiple life-history stages and simultaneous with energetically costly activities including reproduction and development. Most mammals decrease their energy expenditure while fasting, with simultaneous reductions in gluconeogenesis and circulating glucose concentration. Paradoxically, elephant seals maintain high rates of both energy expenditure and gluconeogenesis, and high blood glucose concentrations throughout fasting. We therefore characterized the suite of changes that occur in carbohydrate metabolites during fasting in northern elephant seals. Using a broad-based metabolomics platform we investigated fasting during two states lactation in adult females and the post-weaning developmental period in pups. A total of 227 metabolites were detected in seal plasma; 31 associated with carbohydrate metabolism were analyzed in the present study. Several compounds showed similar responses during lactation and the post-weaning fast (e.g. glycerol and mesaconate) whereas other compounds displayed quite different abundances between groups (e.g. citrate and pyruvate). This work found that, while the changes that occur with fasting were frequently similar in lactating females and developing pups, the relative abundance of compounds often varied markedly. These differences suggest that the metabolic strategies used to endure prolonged fasts are influenced by life-history or nutrient constraints.

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