Increased sensitivity of thyroid hormone-mediated signaling despite prolonged fasting

Bridget Martinez, Michael Scheibner, José G. Soñanez-Organis, John T. Jaques, Daniel E. Crocker, Rudy M. Ortiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


© 2017 Elsevier Inc. Thyroid hormones (TH) can increase cellular metabolism. Food deprivation in mammals is typically associated with reduced thyroid gland responsiveness, in an effort to suppress cellular metabolism and abate starvation. However, in prolonged-fasted, elephant seal pups, cellular TH-mediated proteins are up-regulated and TH levels are maintained with fasting duration. The function and contribution of the thyroid gland to this apparent paradox is unknown and physiologically perplexing. Here we show that the thyroid gland remains responsive during prolonged food deprivation, and that its function and production of TH increase with fasting duration in elephant seals. We discovered that our modeled plasma TH data in response to exogenous thyroid stimulating hormone predicted cellular signaling, which was corroborated independently by the enzyme expression data. The data suggest that the regulation and function of the thyroid gland in the northern elephant seal is atypical for a fasted animal, and can be better described as, “adaptive fasting”. Furthermore, the modeling data help substantiate the in vivo responses measured, providing unique insight on hormone clearance, production rates, and thyroid gland responsiveness. Because these unique endocrine responses occur simultaneously with a nearly strict reliance on the oxidation of lipid, these findings provide an intriguing model to better understand the TH-mediated reliance on lipid metabolism that is not otherwise present in morbidly obese humans. When coupled with cellular, tissue-specific responses, these data provide a more integrated assessment of thyroidal status that can be extrapolated for many fasting/food deprived mammals.
Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)36-47
Number of pages12
JournalGeneral and Comparative Endocrinology
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2017


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