Determinants of intra-specific variation in basal metabolic rate

J Comp Physiol B. 2013 Jan;183(1):27-41. doi: 10.1007/s00360-012-0698-z. Epub 2012 Jul 31.


Basal metabolic rate (BMR) provides a widely accepted benchmark of metabolic expenditure for endotherms under laboratory and natural conditions. While most studies examining BMR have concentrated on inter-specific variation, relatively less attention has been paid to the determinants of within-species variation. Even fewer studies have analysed the determinants of within-species BMR variation corrected for the strong influence of body mass by appropriate means (e.g. ANCOVA). Here, we review recent advancements in studies on the quantitative genetics of BMR and organ mass variation, along with their molecular genetics. Next, we decompose BMR variation at the organ, tissue and molecular level. We conclude that within-species variation in BMR and its components have a clear genetic signature, and are functionally linked to key metabolic process at all levels of biological organization. We highlight the need to integrate molecular genetics with conventional metabolic field studies to reveal the adaptive significance of metabolic variation. Since comparing gene expressions inter-specifically is problematic, within-species studies are more likely to inform us about the genetic underpinnings of BMR. We also urge for better integration of animal and medical research on BMR; the latter is quickly advancing thanks to the application of imaging technologies and 'omics' studies. We also suggest that much insight on the biochemical and molecular underpinnings of BMR variation can be gained from integrating studies on the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which appears to be the major regulatory pathway influencing the key molecular components of BMR.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Laboratory / growth & development
  • Animals, Laboratory / metabolism*
  • Animals, Wild / growth & development
  • Animals, Wild / metabolism*
  • Basal Metabolism*
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental
  • Humans
  • Organ Size
  • Organ Specificity
  • Rodentia / growth & development
  • Rodentia / metabolism
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / genetics
  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases / metabolism


  • TOR Serine-Threonine Kinases