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Am J Physiol. 1988 Jan;254(1 Pt 2):R61-8.

Protein and lipid utilization during long-term fasting in emperor penguins.

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Laboratoire d'Etude des Régulations Physiologiques, associé à l'Université Louis Pasteur, Centre National de La Recherche Scientifique, Strasbourg, France.


The body mass of male emperor penguins is approximately 38 kg at the beginning of the 4-mo winter fast connected with breeding, and it is an estimated approximately 18 kg in leanest birds at time of spontaneous refeeding. For a 38- to 18-kg range, we investigated the changes in the rate of body mass loss, body composition, and plasma concentrations of uric acid and urea. After the first few days (phase I) a steady state (phase II) was reached in the proportions of the energy derived from proteins and lipids with proteins accounting for a constant 4%, and the remaining 96% being from lipids. The same proportions were maintained until body mass had decreased to 24 kg. Below this value the proportion of energy derived from proteins increased progressively (phase III), being 14 times higher at 18 kg than during phase II. Rate of body mass loss and plasma uric acid and urea concentrations closely reflected the changes in protein utilization: being at a low and steady value throughout phase II and increasing during phase III. Emperor penguins also fast during the spring, but for periods of only 2-3 wk. We found a 2.5 times higher value for rate of body mass loss, uric acid, and urea during spring phase II, suggesting lower effectiveness in protein sparing at that time. It may be attributed to the lower initial lipid reserves of spring birds. Would these findings be generalized to the wide variety of birds and mammals that spontaneously fast under natural conditions?(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS).

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