Blubber Explants and Fat Tissue Function in Seals, 2017

Using blubber explants to investigate adipose function in grey seals: glycolytic, lipolytic and gene expression responses to glucose and hydrocortisone

Kimberley A. Bennett, Kelly J. Robinson, Simon E. W. Moss, Sebastian Millward & Ailsa J. Hall

Scientific Reports 2017, volume 7, article number: 7731 (link)


Adipose tissue is fundamental to energy balance, which underpins fitness and survival. Knowledge of adipose regulation in animals that undergo rapid fat deposition and mobilisation aids understanding of their energetic responses to rapid environmental change. Tissue explants can be used to investigate adipose regulation in wildlife species with large fat reserves, when opportunities for organismal experimental work are limited. We investigated glucose removal, lactate, glycerol and NEFA accumulation in media, and metabolic gene expression in blubber explants from wild grey seals. Glycolysis was higher in explants incubated in 25 mM glucose (HG) for 24 h compared to controls (C: 5.5 mM glucose). Adipose-derived lactate likely contributes to high endogenous glucose production in seals. Lipolysis was not stimulated by HG or high hydrocortisone (HC: 500 nM hydrocortisone) and was lower in heavier animals. HC caused NEFA accumulation in media to decrease by ~30% relative to C in females, indicative of increased lipogenesis. Lipolysis was higher in males than females in C and HG conditions. Lower relative abundance of 11-β-hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase 1 mRNA in HG explants suggests glucose involvement in blubber cortisol sensitivity. Our findings can help predict energy balance responses to stress and nutritional state in seals, and highlight the use of explants to study fat tissue function in wildlife.