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Adipose transcriptome analysis provides novel insights into molecular regulation of prolonged fasting in northern elephant seal pups.


The physiological and cellular adaptations to extreme fasting in northern elephant seals ( Mirounga angustirostris, NES) are remarkable and may help to elucidate endocrine mechanisms that regulate lipid metabolism and energy homeostasis in mammals. Recent studies have highlighted the importance of thyroid hormones in the maintenance of a lipid-based metabolism during prolonged fasting in weaned NES pups. To identify additional molecular regulators of fasting, we used a transcriptomics approach to examine changes in global gene expression profiles before and after 6-8 wk of fasting in weaned NES pups. We produced a de novo assembly and identified 98 unique protein-coding genes that were differentially expressed between early and late fasting. Most of the downregulated genes were associated with lipid, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism. A number of downregulated genes were also associated with maintenance of the extracellular matrix, consistent with tissue remodeling during weight loss and the multifunctional nature of blubber tissue, which plays both metabolic and structural roles in marine mammals. Using this data set, we predict potential mechanisms by which NES pups sustain metabolism and regulate adipose stores throughout the fast, and provide a valuable resource for additional studies of extreme metabolic adaptations in mammals.

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