Journal of Comparative Physiology B

, Volume 162, Issue 4, pp 305–313 | Cite as

Relationships between lipid availability and protein utilization during prolonged fasting

  • Yves Cherel
  • Jean-Patrice Robin
  • Astrid Heitz
  • Christiane Calgari
  • Yvon le Maho


Mammals and birds adapt to prolonged fasting by mobilizing fat stores and minimizing protein loss. This strategy ends with an increase in protein utilization associated with behavioural changes promoting food foraging. Using the Zucker rat as a model, we have investigated the effect of severe obesity on this pattern of protein loss during long-term fasting. Two interactions between the initial adiposity and protein utilization were found. First, protein conservation was more effective in obese than in lean rats: fatty rats had a three times lower daily nitrogen excretion and proportion of energy expenditure deriving from proteins, and a lower daily protein loss in various muscles. This phase of protein sparing is moreover nine times longer in the fatty rats. Second, obese animals did not show the late increase in nitrogen excretion that occurred in their lean littermates. Total body protein loss during starvation was larger in fatty rats (57% versus 29%) and, accordingly, total protein loss was greater in their muscles. At the end of the experiment, lean and obese rats had lost 98% and 82%, respectively, of their initial lipid reserves, and fatty rats still had an obese body composition. These results support the hypothesis that in severely obese humans and animals a lethal cumulative protein loss is reached long before the exhaustion of fat stores, while the phase of protein conservation is still continuing. In contrast, in lean rats, survival of fasting seems to depend on the availability of lipid fuels. The data also suggest that accumulation of too much fat in wild animals is detrimental for survival, because it eliminates the late phase of increase in nitrogen excretion that is linked to a food foraging behaviour anticipating a lethal depletion of body reserves.

Key words

Obesity Lipid mobilization Protein conservation Corticosterone Zucker rats 



daily loss in body mass


extensor digitorum longus muscle


free fatty acids




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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yves Cherel
    • 1
  • Jean-Patrice Robin
    • 1
  • Astrid Heitz
    • 1
  • Christiane Calgari
    • 1
  • Yvon le Maho
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratoire d'Etude des Régulations Physiologiquesassocié à l'Université Louis Pasteur, Centre National de la Recherche ScientifiqueStrasbourgFrance

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