The demands of lactation promote differential regulation of lipid stores in fasting elephant seals

Pay-walled Peer Reviewed Publication 2015

General and Comparative Endocrinology

Fasting animals must ration stored reserves appropriately for metabolic demands. Animals that experience fasting concomitant with other metabolically demanding activities are presented with conflicting demands of energy conservation and expenditure. Our objective was to understand how fasting northern elephant seals regulate the mobilization of lipid reserves and subsequently milk lipid content during lactation. We sampled 36 females early and 39 at the end of lactation. To determine the separate influences of lactation from fasting, we also sampled fasting but non-lactating females early and late (8 and 6 seals, respectively) in their molting fasting period. Mass and adiposity were measured, as well as circulating non-esterified fatty acid (NEFA), triacylglycerol (TAG), cortisol, insulin and growth hormone levels. Milk was collected from lactating females. Milk lipid content increased from 31% in early to 51% in late lactation. In lactating females plasma NEFA was positively related to cortisol and negatively related to insulin, but in molting seals, only variation in cortisol was related to NEFA. Milk lipid content varied with mass, adiposity, NEFA, TAG, cortisol and insulin. Surprisingly, growth hormone concentration was not related to lipid metabolites or milk lipid. Suppression of insulin release appears to be the differential regulator of lipolysis in lactating versus molting seals, facilitating mobilization of stored lipids and maintenance of high NEFA concentrations for milk synthesis. Milk lipid was strongly impacted by the supply of substrate to the mammary gland, indicating regulation at the level of mobilization of lipid reserves.

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