Migration-induced variation of fatty acid transporters and cellular metabolic intensity in passerine birds


Because lipids are the main fuel supporting avian endurance activity, lipid transport and oxidation capacities may increase during migration. We measured enzyme activities, mRNA expression and protein levels in pectoralis and heart for several key steps of lipid transport and catabolism pathways to investigate whether these pathways were upregulated during migration. We used yellow-rumped (Setophaga coronata) and yellow (S. petechia) warblers and warbling vireos (Vireo gilvus) as study species because they all show migration-induced increases in organismal metabolic capacities. For yellow-rumped warblers, β-hydroxyacyl CoA-dehydrogenase (HOAD) activities and fatty acid transporter mRNA and/or protein levels were higher during spring than fall in pectoralis and heart, except that fatty acid translocase (FAT/CD36) protein levels showed the opposite pattern in heart. Lipid transporter protein levels, but not mRNA expression, in pectoralis and heart of warbling vireos were higher either during spring or fall than summer, but this was not true for HOAD activities. For yellow warblers, pectoralis, but not heart, protein levels of lipid transporters were upregulated during migration relative to summer, but this pattern was not evident for mRNA expression or HOAD activity. Finally, muscle and heart citrate synthase and carnitine palmitoyl transferase activities showed little seasonal variation for any species. These data suggest that pectoralis and heart lipid transport and catabolism capacities are often, but not universally, important correlates of elevated organismal metabolic capacity during migration. In contrast, migration-induced variation in cellular metabolic intensity and mitochondrial membrane transport are apparently not common correlates of the migratory phenotype in passerines.

Publication Title

Journal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology