After nursing, pups of the northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) are approximately 46% body fat and rely almost entirely on the oxidation of their large fat stores to sustain their metabolism for the ensuing 8-12 week postweaning fast, which is a natural component of their life history. Thus, fasting pups provide an ideal opportunity to examine the hormonal alterations associated with prolonged food deprivation in a naturally adapted model. Cortisol, ghrelin, glucagon, growth hormone (GH), insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), insulin, blood urea nitrogen (BUN), glucose and non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA) were examined in 20 male and 20 female pups blood sampled early (<1 week postweaning) and late (6-8 weeks postweaning) during the fast. Mean cortisol, ghrelin, GH, and glucagon increased 1.8-, 1.8-, 1.4-, and 2.3-fold between early and late periods, while mean IGF-I and insulin decreased 97% and 38%, respectively. NEFA increased 2.3-fold, while BUN and glucose decreased 46% and 11%, respectively. NEFA was significantly and positively correlated with cortisol and GH; individually; however, when the relationship was examined as a multiple regression the correlation improved suggesting that cortisol and GH act synergistically to promote lipolysis during the fast. GH and BUN were negatively and significantly correlated between early and late fasting suggesting that GH may promote protein sparing as well. The decrease in glucose may be responsible for stimulating glucagon, resulting in the maintenance of relative hyperglycemia. The increases in cortisol, ghrelin, glucagon, and GH suggest that these hormones may be integral in mediating the metabolism of seal pups during prolonged fasting.
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