Selective upregulation of lipid metabolism in skeletal muscle of foraging juvenile king penguins: an integrative study

Proc Biol Sci. 2012 Jun 22;279(1737):2464-72. doi: 10.1098/rspb.2011.2664. Epub 2012 Feb 22.


The passage from shore to marine life of juvenile penguins represents a major energetic challenge to fuel intense and prolonged demands for thermoregulation and locomotion. Some functional changes developed at this crucial step were investigated by comparing pre-fledging king penguins with sea-acclimatized (SA) juveniles (Aptenodytes patagonicus). Transcriptomic analysis of pectoralis muscle biopsies revealed that most genes encoding proteins involved in lipid transport or catabolism were upregulated, while genes involved in carbohydrate metabolism were mostly downregulated in SA birds. Determination of muscle enzymatic activities showed no changes in enzymes involved in the glycolytic pathway, but increased 3-hydroxyacyl-CoA dehydrogenase, an enzyme of the β-oxidation pathway. The respiratory rates of isolated muscle mitochondria were much higher with a substrate arising from lipid metabolism (palmitoyl-L-carnitine) in SA juveniles than in terrestrial controls, while no difference emerged with a substrate arising from carbohydrate metabolism (pyruvate). In vivo, perfusion of a lipid emulsion induced a fourfold larger thermogenic effect in SA than in control juveniles. The present integrative study shows that fuel selection towards lipid oxidation characterizes penguin acclimatization to marine life. Such acclimatization may involve thyroid hormones through their nuclear beta receptor and nuclear coactivators.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acclimatization / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology*
  • Cell Respiration / physiology
  • Ecosystem*
  • Energy Metabolism / genetics
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Lipid Metabolism / physiology*
  • Lipids / blood
  • Microarray Analysis
  • Mitochondria, Muscle / physiology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / enzymology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Spheniscidae / metabolism*
  • Spheniscidae / physiology
  • Thyroid Hormones / metabolism


  • Lipids
  • Thyroid Hormones