Limits to sustained energy intake VI. Energetics of lactation in laboratory mice at thermoneutrality

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Citations (Scopus)


The limits to sustained energy intake are important because of their implications for reproductive output, foraging behaviour and thermoregulatory capabilities. Recent attempts to elucidate the nature of the limits to sustained energy intake have focused on peak lactation, which is the most energetically demanding period for female mammals. The hypothesis that performance of lactating animals is limited peripherally by the capacity of mammary glands to produce milk has received the most attention. However, some empirical data cannot be explained by the peripheral limitation hypothesis. Here, we present a novel hypothesis that the limits to sustained energy intake at peak lactation are imposed by the capacity of the animal to dissipate body heat generated as a by-product of processing food and producing milk. To test the heat dissipation limit hypothesis we challenged reproducing MF1 laboratory mice (N=67) with a reduced potential heat flow between the animal and the environment by exposing them to 30degreesC (thermoneutral zone). We compared their food intake and reproductive output at peak lactation with animals studied previously at 21degreesC (N=71) and 8degreesC (N=15). Mice lactating at 30degreesC had a significantly lower mean asymptotic food intake (12.4 g day(-1)) than those at 21degreesC (23.5 g day(-1)) and 8degreesC (28.6 g day(-1)). On average, mice at 30degreesC raised significantly fewer (9.8) and smaller (6.1 g) pups than those at 21degreesC (11.3 pups; 7.0 g per pup) and smaller pups than those at 8degreesC (9.6 pups; 7.3 g per pup). Consequently, mean litter mass at 30degreesC (56.0 g) was significantly lower than at 21degreesC (77.1 g) and at 8degreesC (68.7 g). The mean rate of litter mass increase at 30degreesC (2.1 g day(-1)) was also lower than at 21degreesC (3.1 g day(-1)). The reduced food intake and low reproductive output in mice lactating at 30degreesC are consistent with the heat dissipation limit hypothesis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4255-4266
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number23
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2003


  • asymptotic food intake
  • digestibility
  • reproductive
  • output
  • peripheral limit
  • heat dissipation limit
  • laboratory mouse
  • Mus musculus


Dive into the research topics of 'Limits to sustained energy intake VI. Energetics of lactation in laboratory mice at thermoneutrality'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this