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Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Jul 7;279(1738):2599-608. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2627. Epub 2012 Mar 7.

Water deprivation induces appetite and alters metabolic strategy in Notomys alexis: unique mechanisms for water production in the desert.

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Atmosphere and Ocean Research Institute, University of Tokyo, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-8564, Japan.


Like many desert animals, the spinifex hopping mouse, Notomys alexis, can maintain water balance without drinking water. The role of the kidney in producing a small volume of highly concentrated urine has been well-documented, but little is known about the physiological mechanisms underpinning the metabolic production of water to offset obligatory water loss. In Notomys, we found that water deprivation (WD) induced a sustained high food intake that exceeded the pre-deprivation level, which was driven by parallel changes in plasma leptin and ghrelin and the expression of orexigenic and anorectic neuropeptide genes in the hypothalamus; these changed in a direction that would stimulate appetite. As the period of WD was prolonged, body fat disappeared but body mass increased gradually, which was attributed to hepatic glycogen storage. Switching metabolic strategy from lipids to carbohydrates would enhance metabolic water production per oxygen molecule, thus providing a mechanism to minimize respiratory water loss. The changes observed in appetite control and metabolic strategy in Notomys were absent or less prominent in laboratory mice. This study reveals novel mechanisms for appetite regulation and energy metabolism that could be essential for desert rodents to survive in xeric environments.

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