Thermal acclimation, mitochondrial capacities and organ metabolic profiles in a reptile (Alligator mississippiensis)

J Comp Physiol B. 2011 Jan;181(1):53-64. doi: 10.1007/s00360-010-0499-1. Epub 2010 Aug 1.


Reptiles thermoregulate behaviourally, but change their preferred temperature and the optimal temperature for performance seasonally. We evaluated whether the digestive and locomotor systems of the alligator show parallel metabolic adjustments during thermal acclimation. To this end, we allowed juvenile alligators to grow under thermal conditions typical of winter and summer, providing them with seasonally appropriate basking opportunities. Although mean body temperatures of alligators in these groups differed by approximately 10°C, their growth and final anatomic status was equivalent. While hepatic mitochondria isolated from cold-acclimated alligators had higher oxidative capacities at 30°C than those from warm-acclimated alligators, the capacities did not differ at 20°C. Cold acclimation decreased maximal oxidative capacities of muscle mitochondria. For mitochondria from both organs and acclimation groups, palmitate increased oligomycin-inhibited respiration. GDP addition reduced palmitate-uncoupled rates more in liver mitochondria from warm- than cold-acclimated alligators. In muscle mitochondria, carboxyatractyloside significantly reduced palmitate-uncoupled rates. This effect was not changed by thermal acclimation. The aerobic capacity of liver, skeletal muscle and duodenum, as estimated by activities of cytochrome c oxidase (COX), increased with cold acclimation. At acclimation temperatures, the activities of COX and citrate synthase (CS) in these organs were equivalent. By measuring COX and CS in isolated mitochondria and tissue extracts, we estimated that cold acclimation did not change the mitochondrial content in liver, but increased that of muscle. The thermal compensation of growth rates and of the aerobic capacity of the locomotor and digestive systems suggests that alligators optimised metabolic processes for the seasonally altered, preferred body temperature. The precision of this compensatory response exceeds that typically shown by aquatic ectotherms whose body temperatures are at the mercy of their habitat.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization*
  • Alligators and Crocodiles / growth & development
  • Alligators and Crocodiles / metabolism*
  • Animals
  • Body Temperature
  • Body Temperature Regulation
  • Citrate (si)-Synthase / metabolism
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism
  • Metabolome*
  • Mitochondria / enzymology
  • Mitochondria / metabolism*
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / enzymology
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / metabolism*
  • Oxygen Consumption
  • Seasons
  • Temperature
  • Time Factors


  • Electron Transport Complex IV
  • Citrate (si)-Synthase