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J Exp Biol. 2012 May 1;215(Pt 9):1484-90. doi: 10.1242/jeb.062992.

Extending food deprivation reverses the short-term lipolytic response to fasting: role of the triacylglycerol/fatty acid cycle.

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Biology Department, University of Ottawa, 30 Marie Curie, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1N 6N5.


The effects of short-term food deprivation on lipid metabolism are well documented, but little is known about prolonged fasting. This study monitored the kinetics of glycerol (rate of appearance, R(a) glycerol) and non-esterified fatty acids (R(a) NEFA) in fasting rabbits. Our goals were to determine whether lipolysis is stimulated beyond values seen for short-term fasting, and to characterize the roles of primary (intracellular) and secondary (with transit through the circulation) triacylglycerol/fatty acid cycling (TAG/FA cycling) in regulating fatty acid allocation to oxidation or re-esterification. R(a) glycerol (9.62±0.72 to 15.29±0.96 μmol kg(-1) min(-1)) and R(a) NEFA (18.05±2.55 to 31.25±1.93 μmol kg(-1) min(-1)) were stimulated during the first 2 days of fasting, but returned to baseline after 4 days. An initial increase in TAG/FA cycling was followed by a reduction below baseline after 6 days without food, with primary and secondary cycling contributing to these responses. We conclude that the classic activation of lipolysis caused by short-term fasting is abolished when food deprivation is prolonged. High rates of re-esterification may become impossible to sustain, and TAG/FA cycling could decrease to reduce its cost to 3% of total energy expenditure. Throughout prolonged fasting, fatty acid metabolism gradually shifts towards increased oxidation and reduced re-esterification. Survival is achieved by pressing fuel selection towards the fatty acid dominance of energy metabolism and by slowing substrate cycles to assist metabolic suppression. However, TAG/FA cycling remains active even after prolonged fasting, suggesting that re-esterification is a crucial mechanism that cannot be stopped without harmful consequences.

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