Dynamics of individual fatty acids in muscle fat stores and membranes of a songbird and its functional and ecological importance

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Although tissue fatty acid (FA) composition has been linked to whole-animal performance (e.g., aerobic endurance, metabolic rate, postexercise recovery) in a wide range of animal taxa, we do not adequately understand the pace of changes in FA composition and its implications for the ecology of animals. Therefore, we used a C4 to C3 diet shift experiment and compound-specific δ13C analysis to estimate the turnover rates of FAs in the polar and neutral fractions of flight muscle lipids (corresponding to membranes and lipid droplets) of exercised and sedentary zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata). Turnover was fastest for linoleic acid (LA; 18: 2n6) and palmitic acid (PA; 16: 0), with 95% replacement times of 10.8–17.7 d in the polar fraction and 17.2–32.8 d in the neutral fraction, but was unexpectedly slow for the long-chain polyunsaturated FAs (LC-PUFAs) arachidonic acid (20: 4n6) and docosahexaenoic acid (22: 6n3) in the polar fraction, with 95% replacement in 64.9–136.5 d. Polar fraction LA and PA turnover was significantly faster in exercised birds (95% replacement in 8.5–13.3 d). Our results suggest that FA turnover in intramuscular lipid droplets is related to FA tissue concentrations and that turnover does not change in response to exercise. In contrast, we found that muscle membrane FA turnover is likely driven by a combination of selective LC-PUFA retention and consumption of shorter-chain FAs in energy metabolism. The unexpectedly fast turnover of membrane-associated FAs in muscle suggests that songbirds during migration could substantially remodel their membranes within a single migration stopover, and this may have substantial implications for how the FA composition of diet affects energy metabolism of birds during migration.

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Physiological and Biochemical Zoology