Metabolism and aging: effects of cold exposure on metabolic rate, body composition, and longevity in mice

Lobke M Vaanholt, Serge Daan, Kristin A Schubert, G Henk Visser

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40 Citations (Scopus)


The proposition that increased energy expenditure shortens life has a long history. The rate-of-living theory (Pearl 1928 ) states that life span and average mass-specific metabolic rate are inversely proportional. Originally based on interspecific allometric comparisons between species of mammals, the theory was later rejected on the basis of comparisons between taxa (e.g., birds have higher metabolic rates than mammals of the same size and yet live longer). It has rarely been experimentally tested within species. Here, we investigated the effects of increased energy expenditure, induced by cold exposure, on longevity in mice. Longevity was measured in groups of 60 male mice maintained at either 22 degrees C (WW) or 10 degrees C (CC) throughout adult life. Forty additional mice were maintained at both of these temperatures to determine metabolic rate (by stable isotope turnover, gas exchange, and food intake) as well as the mass of body and organs of subsets of animals at four different ages. Because energy expenditure might affect longevity by either accumulating damage or by instantaneously affecting mortality rate, we included a third group of mice exposed to 10 degrees C early in life and to 22 degrees C afterward (CW). Exposure to cold increased mean daily energy expenditure by ca. 48% (from 47.8 kJ d(-1) in WW to 70.6 kJ d(-1) in CC mice, with CW intermediate at 59.9 kJ d(-1)). However, we observed no significant differences in median life span among the groups (WW, 832 d; CC, 834 d; CW, 751 d). CC mice had reduced body mass (lifetime mean 30.7 g) compared with WW mice (33.8 g), and hence their lifetime energy potential (LEP) per gram whole-body mass had an even larger excess than per individual. Greenberg ( 1999 ) has pointed out that the size of the energetically costly organs, rather than that of the whole body, may be relevant for the rate-of-living idea. We therefore expressed LEP also in terms of energy expenditure per gram dry lean mass or per gram "metabolic" organ mass (i.e., heart, liver, kidneys, and brain). No matter how it was expressed, LEP in CC mice significantly exceeded that of WW mice. This result demonstrates that increased energy expenditure does not shorten life span and adds evidence to the intraspecific refutation of the rate-of-living theory. We suggest that increased energy expenditure has both positive and negative effects on different factors determining life span and that the relationship between energy turnover and longevity is fundamentally nonmonotonic.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)314-324
Number of pages11
JournalPhysiological and Biochemical Zoology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2009


  • age Factors
  • animals
  • basal metabolism
  • body composition
  • brain
  • cold temperature
  • energy metabolism
  • heart
  • kidney
  • liver
  • longevity
  • male
  • mice
  • mice, inbred C57BL
  • myocardium
  • random allocation
  • survival analysis


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