Avian red blood cell mitochondria produce more heat in winter than in autumn

Andreas Nord, Neil B. Metcalfe, Jennifer L. Page, Anna Huxtable, Dominic J. McCafferty, Neal J. Dawson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)


Endotherms in cold regions improve heat-producing capacity when preparing for winter. We know comparatively little about how this change is fueled by seasonal adaptation in cellular respiration. Thus, we studied the changes of mitochondrial function in red blood cells in sympatric Coal (Periparus ater), Blue (Cyanistes caeruleus), and Great (Parus major) tits between autumn and winter. These species differ more than twofold in body mass and in several aspects of their foraging ecology and social dominance, which could require differential seasonal adaptation of energy expenditure. Coal and Great tits in particular upregulated the mitochondrial respiration rate and mitochondrial volume in winter. This was not directed toward ATP synthesis, instead reflecting increased uncoupling of electron transport from ATP production. Because uncoupling is exothermic, this increased heat-producing capacity at the sub-cellular level in winter. This previously unexplored the route of thermogenesis in birds should be addressed in future work.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere21490
JournalFASEB journal : official publication of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Evolutionary Biology


  • cellular metabolism
  • erythrocyte
  • overwintering
  • oxygen consumption
  • thermal biology


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