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Comp Biochem Physiol B Biochem Mol Biol. 2011 Aug;159(4):214-9. doi: 10.1016/j.cbpb.2011.04.005. Epub 2011 May 12.

High-density lipoprotein remains elevated despite reductions in total cholesterol in fasting adult male elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris).

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Department of Biology, Sonoma State University, Rohnert Park, CA 94928, USA.


We examined changes in lipid profiles of 40 adult northern elephant seal bulls over the 3-month breeding fast and the 1-month molting fast to investigate impacts of fasting on serum total cholesterol (TC), triglycerides (TG) and lipoproteins. Total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) levels were initially high (3930 ± 190mgL(-1)and 1610 ± 170mgL(-1), respectively) and decreased significantly over the breeding season. Total cholesterol and LDL declined significantly with adipose tissue reserves (p<0.001), and LDL levels as low as 43 mgL(-1) were measured in seals late in the breeding fast. Less dramatic but similar changes in lipid metabolism were observed across the molting fast. High-density lipoproteins (HDL) remained consistently elevated (>1750 mgL(-1)) suggesting that elephant seals defend HDL concentrations, despite significant depletion of TC and LDL across the breeding fast. Triglyceride levels were significantly higher during the molt, consistent with lower rates of lipid oxidation needed to meet metabolic energy demands during this period. The maintenance of HDL during breeding is consistent with its role in delivering cholesterol from adipose tissue for steroidogenesis and spermatogenesis and potentially mitigates oxidative stress associated with fasting.

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