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J Exp Biol. 2008 Dec;211(Pt 24):3767-74. doi: 10.1242/jeb.023754.

Digestive physiology of the Burmese python: broad regulation of integrated performance.

Author information

  • Department of Biological Sciences, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL 35405, USA. ssecor@biology.as.ua.edu

Abstract

As an apparent adaptation to predictably long episodes of fasting, the sit-and-wait foraging Burmese python experiences unprecedented regulation of gastrointestinal and cardiovascular performance with feeding and fasting. The ingestion of a meal signals the quiescent gut tissues to start secreting digestive acid and enzymes, to upregulate intestinal brush-border enzymes and nutrient transporters, and to grow. An integrated phenomenon, digestion is also characterized by increases in the mass, and presumably the function, of the heart, pancreas, liver and kidneys. Once digestion is complete, the python's stomach and small intestine rapidly downregulate performance. Much of the modulation of intestinal function can be explained by the 5-fold increase in microvillus length and apical surface area with feeding, and the subsequent shortening of the microvilli after digestion has finished. Digestion for the Burmese python is a relatively expensive endeavor, evident by the as much as a 44-fold increase in metabolic rate and equivalent in cost to as much as 37% of the meal's energy. Their large metabolic response is supported by substantial increases in ventilation and cardiac output and the apparent catabolism of glucose and lipids. Unmatched in the magnitude of its numerous physiological responses to feeding, the Burmese python is a very attractive model for examining the capacities and regulatory mechanisms of physiological performance.

PMID:
19043049
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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