Within-winter flexibility in muscle and heart lipid transport and catabolism in passerine birds


Small birds in cold climates may show within-winter metabolic flexibility to match metabolic capacities to prevailing weather conditions. This flexibility may occur over periods of days to weeks, but the underlying mechanisms for such flexibility are not well understood. Because lipids are the primary fuel for sustained thermogenesis, we examined whether lipid transport and catabolism can mediate within-winter metabolic flexibility in two small temperate-zone wintering passerine birds, dark-eyed juncos (Junco hyemalis) and house sparrows (Passer domesticus). We used simple and multiple regression analyses to test for correlations of several lipid transporters in pectoralis muscle (plasma membrane-bound and cytosolic fatty acid-binding proteins, FABP; fatty acyl translocase, FAT/CD36) and regulatory enzymes (carnitine acyl transferase, CPT; β-hydroxyacyl CoA dehydrogenase, HOAD) in pectoralis and heart with short-term (ST, 0–7 days), medium-term (MT, 14–30 days) and long-term (LT, 30-year mean daily and extreme minimum temperatures, day of winter season) temperature variables. We hypothesized negative correlations between these regulators and temperature variables. Juncos showed negative correlations for FABPs with ST or MT temperature variables, but other lipid transporters and regulatory enzymes showed positive correlations with ST or MT temperatures for juncos, suggesting no consistent pathway-wide response to within-winter temperatures. LT temperature variables showed several significant associations with lipid transporters and enzymes for juncos, but also not in consistent directions. House sparrows showed the expected negative correlations with LT temperatures for FABPpm, but positive correlations with temperature variables for FABPc, CPT and HOAD. Different species-specific patterns of variation and the absence of consistent pathway-wide responses to temperature suggest that the lipid transport and catabolism pathway is not a uniform mediator of within-winter metabolic flexibility among small birds.

Publication Title

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