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Animals that endure prolonged periods of food deprivation preserve vital organ function by sparing protein from catabolism. Much of this protein sparing is achieved by reducing metabolic rate and suppressing gluconeogenesis while fasting. Northern elephant seals (Mirounga angustirostris) endure prolonged fasts of up to 3 mo at multiple life stages. During these fasts, elephant seals maintain high levels of activity and energy expenditure associated with breeding, reproduction, lactation, and development while maintaining rates of glucose production typical of a postabsorptive mammal. Therefore, we investigated how fasting elephant seals meet the requirements of glucose-dependent tissues while suppressing protein catabolism by measuring the contribution of glycogenolysis, glycerol, and phosphoenolpyruvate (PEP) to endogenous glucose production (EGP) during their natural 2-mo postweaning fast. Additionally, pathway flux rates associated with the tricarboxylic acid (TCA) cycle were measured specifically, flux through phosphoenolpyruvate carboxykinase (PEPCK) and pyruvate cycling. The rate of glucose production decreased during the fast (F(1,13) = 5.7, P = 0.04) but remained similar to that of postabsorptive mammals. The fractional contributions of glycogen, glycerol, and PEP did not change with fasting; PEP was the primary gluconeogenic precursor and accounted for ∼95% of EGP. This large contribution of PEP to glucose production occurred without substantial protein loss. Fluxes through the TCA cycle, PEPCK, and pyruvate cycling were higher than reported in other species and were the most energetically costly component of hepatic carbohydrate metabolism. The active pyruvate recycling fluxes detected in elephant seals may serve to rectify gluconeogeneic PEP production during restricted anaplerotic inflow in these fasting-adapted animals.


Cory D Champagne, Dorian S Houser, Melinda A Fowler, Daniel P Costa, Daniel E Crocker. Gluconeogenesis is associated with high rates of tricarboxylic acid and pyruvate cycling in fasting northern elephant seals. American journal of physiology. Regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology. 2012 Aug 1;303(3):R340-52

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PMID: 22673783

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