Oxidative stress and mitochondrial responses to stress exposure suggest that king penguins are naturally equipped to resist stress.

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Exposure to unpredictable environmental stressors could influence animal health and fitness by inducing oxidative stress, potentially through downstream effects of glucocorticoid stress hormones (e.g. corticosterone) on mitochondrial function. Yet, it remains unclear whether species that have evolved in stochastic and challenging environments may present adaptations to alleviate the effects of stress exposure on oxidative stress. We tested this hypothesis in wild king penguins by investigating mitochondrial and oxidative stress responses to acute restraint-stress, and their relationships with baseline (potentially mirroring exposure to chronic stress) and stress-induced increase in corticosterone levels. Acute restraint-stress did not significantly influence mitochondrial function. However, acute restraint-stress led to a significant increase in endogenous antioxidant defences, while oxidative damage levels were mostly not affected or even decreased. High baseline corticosterone levels were associated with an up-regulation of the glutathione antioxidant system and a decrease in mitochondrial efficiency. Both processes might contribute to prevent oxidative damage, potentially explaining the negative relationship observed between baseline corticosterone and plasma oxidative damage to proteins. While stress exposure can represent an oxidative challenge for animals, protective mechanisms like up-regulating antioxidant defences and decreasing mitochondrial efficiency seem to occur in king penguins, allowing them to cope with their stochastic and challenging environment.


Scientific Reports



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