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Prolonged Fasting Does Not Increase Oxidative Damage or Inflammation in Postweaned Northern Elephant Seal Pups

Elephant seals are naturally adapted to survive up to three months of absolute food and water deprivation (fasting). Prolonged food deprivation in terrestrial mammals increases reactive oxygen species (ROS) production, oxidative damage and inflammation that can be induced by an increase in the renin–angiotensin system (RAS). To test the hypothesis that prolonged fasting in elephant seals is not associated with increased oxidative stress or inflammation, blood samples and muscle biopsies were collected from early (2–3 weeks post-weaning) and late (7–8 weeks post-weaning) fasted seals. Plasma levels of oxidative damage, inflammatory markers and plasma renin activity (PRA), along with muscle levels of lipid and protein oxidation, were compared between early and late fasting periods. Protein expression of angiotensin receptor 1 (AT1), pro-oxidant (Nox4) and antioxidant enzymes (CuZn- and Mn-superoxide dismutases, glutathione peroxidase and catalase) was analyzed in muscle. Fasting induced a 2.5-fold increase in PRA, a 50% increase in AT1, a twofold increase in Nox4 and a 70% increase in NADPH oxidase activity. By contrast, neither tissue nor systemic indices of oxidative damage or inflammation increased with fasting. Furthermore, muscle antioxidant enzymes increased 40–60% with fasting in parallel with an increase in muscle and red blood cell antioxidant enzyme activities. These data suggest that, despite the observed increases in RAS and Nox4, an increase in antioxidant enzymes appears to be sufficient to suppress systemic and tissue indices of oxidative damage and inflammation in seals that have fasted for a prolonged period. The present study highlights the importance of antioxidant capacity in mammals during chronic periods of stress to help avoid deleterious systemic consequences.

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