Environmental temperature effects on adipose tissue growth in a hibernator
Journal of Experimental Biology
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Obligate hibernators express circannual patterns of body mass and hibernation, which persist under constant laboratory conditions. Brown adipose tissue (BAT) is important for thermogenesis during arousals from hibernation, whereas white adipose tissue (WAT) serves as energy storage and thermal insulation. The goal of this study was to investigate the effects of environmental temperature on BAT and WAT. We hypothesized that changes to environmental temperature would not influence the pattern of mass gain or BAT and WAT volume in the thirteen-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). To test this, we housed animals at thermoneutral 25°C (warm-housed) or 5°C (cold-housed), with the same photoperiod (12 h light:12 h dark) over an entire year. Throughout the year we measured the volume and water:fat ratio of WAT and BAT using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We found no evidence of torpor in the warm-housed animals, indicating that this species might not be an obligate hibernator, as previously assumed. Regardless of ambient temperature, BAT volume increased prior to winter, then decreased in late winter with no change in water:fat ratio. By contrast, both body mass and WAT volume of cold-housed animals declined throughout the winter and recovered after hibernation, but thermoneutral housing produced no circannual pattern in body mass, even though WAT volume declined in late winter. Cold exposure appears to be a primary regulator for WAT but BAT may exhibit an endogenous circannual rhythm in terms of depot volume.