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Plasticity in food intake, thermogenesis and body mass in the tree shrew (Tupaia belangeri) is affected by food restriction and refeeding

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Physiological adjustments are important strategies for small mammals in response to variation in food availability. To determine the physiological mechanisms affected by food restriction and refeeding, tree shrews were restricted to 85% of initial food intake for 4 weeks and refed ad libitum for another 4 weeks. Changes in food intake, body mass, thermogenesis, body composition, mitochondrial cytochrome c oxidase activity, uncoupling protein-1 content in brown adipose tissue and serum leptin levels were measured. The results showed that body mass, body fat mass and serum leptin levels significantly decreased in food restricted tree shrews, and increased when the restriction ended, showing a short “compensatory growth” rather than over-weight or obesity compared with ad libitum controls. Resting metabolic rate, non-shivering thermogenesis, brown adipose tissue mass (mg), and uncoupling protein-1 content decreased significantly in response to food restriction, and returned to the control levels after the animals were refed ad libitum, while the brown adipose tissue mass (%) and cytochrome c oxidase activity remained stable during food restriction and refeeding. Food intake increased shortly after refeeding, which perhaps contributed to the rapid regaining of body mass. These results suggest that Tupaia belangeri can adjust the status of its physiology integratively to cope with the lack of food by means of decreasing body mass, thermogenesis and serum leptin levels. Leptin may act as a starvation signal to predominantly mediate the reduction in body mass and energy expenditure.

Affiliations: 1: 1Key Laboratory of Ecological Adaptive Evolution and Conservation on Animals-Plants in Southwest Mountain Ecosystem of University in Yunnan Province, School of Life Science of Yunnan Normal University, Kunming 650500, China


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