Summer-to-winter phenotypic flexibility of fatty acid transport and catabolism in skeletal muscle and heart of small birds


Prolonged shivering in birds is mainly fueled by lipids. Consequently, lipid transport and catabolism are vital for thermogenic performance and could be upregulated along with thermogenic capacity as part of the winter phenotype. We investigated summer-to-winter variation in lipid transport and catabolism by measuring mRNA expression, protein levels, and enzyme activities for several key steps of lipid transport and catabolic pathways in pectoralis muscle and heart in two small temperate-zone resident birds, American goldfinches (Spinus tristis) and black-capped chickadees (Poecile atricapillus). Cytosolic fatty acid binding protein (FABPc; a key component of intramyocyte lipid transport) mRNA and/or protein levels were generally higher in winter for pectoralis muscle and heart for both species. However, seasonal variation in plasma membrane lipid transporters, fatty acyl translocase, and plasma membrane fatty acid binding protein in pectoralis and heart differed between the two species, with winter increases for chickadees and seasonal stability or summer increases for goldfinches. Catabolic enzyme activities generally showed limited seasonal differences for both tissues and both species. These data suggest that FABPc is an important target of upregulation for the winter phenotype in pectoralis and heart of both species. Plasma membrane lipid transporters and lipid catabolic capacity were also elevated in winter for chickadees but not for goldfinches. Because the two species show differential regulation of distinct aspects of lipid transport and catabolism, these data are consistent with other recent studies documenting that different bird species or populations employ a variety of strategies to promote elevated winter thermogenic capacity.

Publication Title

Physiological and Biochemical Zoology