Stable isotope analysis of CO2 in breath indicates metabolic fuel shifts in torpid arctic ground squirrels

Trixie N. Lee, Melanie M. Richter, Cory T. Williams, Øivind Tøien, Brian M. Barnes, Diane M. O'Brien, C. Loren Buck

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Stable carbon isotope ratios (δ13C) in breath show promise as an indicator of immediate metabolic fuel utilization in animals because tissue lipids have a lower δ13C value than carbohydrates and proteins. Metabolic fuel consumption is often estimated using the respiratory exchange ratio (RER), which has lipid and carbohydrate boundaries, but does not differentiate between protein and mixed fuel catabolism at intermediate values. Because lipids have relatively low δ13C values, measurements of stable carbon isotopes in breath may help distinguish between catabolism of protein and mixed fuel that includes lipid. We measured breath δ13C and RER concurrently in arctic ground squirrels (Urocitellus parryii) during steady-state torpor at ambient temperatures from − 2 to − 26 °C. As predicted, we found a correlation between RER and breath δ13C values; however, the range of RER in this study did not reach intermediate levels to allow further resolution of metabolic substrate use with the addition of breath δ13C measurements. These data suggest that breath δ13C values are 1.1‰ lower than lipid tissue during pure lipid metabolism. From RER, we determined that arctic ground squirrels rely on nonlipid fuel sources for a significant portion of energy during torpor (up to 37%). The shift toward nonlipid fuel sources may be influenced by adiposity of the animals in addition to thermal challenge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10-15
Number of pages6
JournalComparative Biochemistry and Physiology -Part A : Molecular and Integrative Physiology
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • Arctic ground squirrel
  • Breath carbon isotopes
  • Hibernation
  • Metabolic fuel
  • Stable isotopes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology


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