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Animals that fast during breeding and/or development, such as phocids, must regulate energy balance carefully to maximize reproductive fitness and survival probability. Adiponectin, produced by adipose tissue, contributes to metabolic regulation by modulating sensitivity to insulin, increasing fatty acid oxidation by liver and muscle, and promoting adipogenesis and lipid storage in fat tissue. We tested the hypotheses that (1) circulating adiponectin, insulin, or relative adiponectin gene expression is related to nutritional state, body mass, and mass gain in wild gray seal pups; (2) plasma adiponectin or insulin is related to maternal lactation duration, body mass, percentage milk fat, or free fatty acid (FFA) concentration; and (3) plasma adiponectin and insulin are correlated with circulating FFA in females and pups. In pups, plasma adiponectin decreased during suckling (linear mixed-effects model [LME]: T = 4.49; P < 0.001) and the early postweaning fast (LME: T = 3.39; P = 0.004). In contrast, their blubber adiponectin gene expression was higher during the early postweaning fast than early in suckling (LME: T = 2.11; P = 0.046). Insulin levels were significantly higher in early (LME: T = 3.52; P = 0.004) and late (LME: T = 6.99; P < 0.001) suckling than in fasting and, given the effect of nutritional state, were also positively related to body mass (LME: T = 3.58; P = 0.004). Adiponectin and insulin levels did not change during lactation and were unrelated to milk FFA or percentage milk fat in adult females. Our data suggest that adiponectin, in conjunction with insulin, may facilitate fat storage in seals and is likely to be particularly important in the development of blubber reserves in pups.

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Open Access Journal Article

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Open Access