Carnitine Palmitoyl Transferase Activity and Whole Muscle Oxidation Rates Vary With Fatty Acid Substrate in Avian Flight Muscles

J Comp Physiol B. 2011 May;181(4):565-73. doi: 10.1007/s00360-010-0542-2. Epub 2010 Dec 14.


Birds primarily fuel migratory flights with fat, and the composition of that fat has the potential to affect overall lipid oxidation rates. We measured the whole muscle lipid oxidation rates in extensor digitorum communis muscles from white-throated sparrows (Zonotrichia albicollis Gmelin) incubated for 20 min at 20°C with radiolabeled stearate (18:0), oleate (18:1ω9), or linoleate (18:2ω6). Lipid oxidation rates were ~40% higher with linoleate than oleate (oleate: 36 ± 8.54 μmol CO(2) g(-1) h(-1)), and ~75% lower with stearate compared with oleate, indicating that maximal lipid oxidation rates can indeed be affected by the type of fatty acid supplied to the muscle. Additionally, we investigated the activity of the mitochondrial fatty acid transport-associated enzyme carnitine palmitoyl transferase (CPT) in pectoralis muscles of 5 bird species (Zonotrichia albicollis, Philomachus pugnax, Sturnus vulgaris, Taeniopygia guttata, Passer domesticus). Activity was measured in homogenized samples using various fatty acyl-CoA substrates (16:0, 16:1, 18:0, 18:1ω9, 18:2ω6, 18:3ω3, 18:3ω6, 20:0, 20:4ω6, 22:6ω3) in a spectrophotometric assay. CPT activity increased with the degree of unsaturation and decreased with chain length. CPT activity did not differ between ω3 and ω6 isomers of 18:3, nor was the pattern of CPT substrate preference different between captive white-throated sparrows in a migratory (i.e., displaying Zugunruhe) or non-migratory state. These findings can explain previously observed differences in peak performance induced by dietary fat composition and suggest that lipid supply is limiting to maximal exercise performance in birds.

MeSH terms

  • Animal Migration / physiology
  • Animals
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase / metabolism*
  • Dietary Fats / metabolism
  • Muscle, Skeletal / enzymology
  • Songbirds / metabolism*
  • Sparrows / metabolism*
  • Substrate Specificity


  • Dietary Fats
  • Carnitine O-Palmitoyltransferase