In endothermic vertebrates, long-term increases in metabolic energy demand are often associated with increases in food intake and accompanied by increases in organ mass. Wide-scale increases in organ mass have often been attributed to a metabolic response to increased energy intake and utilization. On a constant diet, however, increased food intake is also associated with increased protein intake. We hypothesized that, while increased food intake itself may be responsible for increases in digestive tract mass, the consequent increased protein intake would be the factor responsible for increased kidney mass and function. Thus, we exposed male and female mice to diets differing in protein level (7 %, 15 % or 46 % casein by mass) at different acclimation temperatures (5 degrees C or 23 degrees C). Within an acclimation temperature, food intake rate remained constant over the entire range of dietary protein level, and protein intake rate increased as dietary content increased. The mice in the cold-acclimation group increased food intake rate by 48-120 % over those in the warm-acclimation group. Liver, kidney and stomach mass increased with protein intake rate, while digestive tract and other vital organ masses increased only in response to increased energy intake rate. Blood urea nitrogen levels increased with protein intake rate. Glomerular filtration rates increased with increases in dietary protein level in male mice but not female mice. Finally nitrogen filtration rate increased with protein intake rate for mice on the high-protein diet. We suggest that it is primarily the increased protein intake rate rather than the increased food intake rate that results in the changes in kidney and liver mass and kidney function observed to occur in situations of high energy demand.

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