Limits to sustained energy intake V: Effect of cold exposure during lactation in Mus musculus

M S Johnson, J R Speakman

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116 Citations (Scopus)


We have previously observed that female MF1 mice appeared to reach a limit in their food intake and milk production during late lactation, reaching a plateau between days 13 and 16 of lactation and between litter sizes of 9 and 15, These mice did not increase their food intake when forced to raise more offspring or when manipulated to be concurrently pregnant during late lactation, yet they did eat significantly more food at the peak of their second sequential lactation or when challenged with food of reduced energy content. These data suggest that apparent limits on sustained energy intake in this strain may not reflect central limitations but rather peripheral constraints at the mammary glands. In this study, we aimed to determine whether these were indeed limits by increasing the demands on the females during late lactation by cold-exposure (8 degreesC), Females responded to this manipulation by significantly increasing their food intake (F-1,F-73=77.53, P <0.001) above that of lactating females kept in warmer conditions (21 degreesC). In addition, there was a significant reduction in the number of pups raised in the cold (t=2.36, d.f.=18, P=0.03), with the majority of the mortality occurring within the first 2 days of cold-exposure. The mean mass of the pups raised in the cold was significantly lower (F-1,F-74=13.8, P <0.001) than that of those raised in the warm. Despite the cold-exposure and the increased food intake, there was no difference in the resting metabolic rates of the two groups of mothers or in the lengths of their small intestine. The greater food intake of lactating mice during cold-exposure supported our previous observations that they were capable of eating more food than the previously suggested limit of 23.1 g day(-1). However, the milk energy output of females in the cold was also significantly higher than in the warm (F-1,F-15=11.99, P=0.003), indicating that the asymptotic food intake of females in the warm was not mediated by limitations in their milk production. Sustained energy intake in these mice does not appear to be centrally or peripherally limited. Rather, the mice may restrain their use of energy during their first lactation because of life-history consequences for future reproductive attempts.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1967-1977
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Publication statusPublished - 2001


  • energetics
  • maximal metabolic rate
  • sustained metabolic rate
  • pregnancy
  • lactation
  • reproduction
  • mouse


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