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This study investigates the mechanisms involved in adjusting metabolic rate in response to acute changes in ambient temperature close to thermoneutrality during postnatal development. Twelve lambs were prepared for sequential studies at 4, 14, 30, 45 and 55 days of age. During each study they were maintained at ambient temperatures of 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30°C for at least 1 h and until a slow wave sleep epoch was established. Eight lambs completed all studies. In these there was a significant fall in oxygen consumption with age which was independent of ambient temperature. This effect was closely related to a decrease in plasma triiodothyronine concentration that was greatest between 4- and 14-days old lambs and was not associated with a change in the plasma concentration of thyrotrophin or thyroxine. In 4-days old lambs oxygen consumption was increased at ambient temperatures of 5 and 10°C by non-shivering thermogenesis, whilst in 14- and 30-days old lambs this effect was achieved by shivering. On the basis of significant changes in oxygen consumption and/or the occurrence of shivering (lower critical temperature) and panting (upper critical temperature) we have shown that there is a fall in both upper and lower critical temperature with age and a widening of the thermoneutral zone. This was associated with a decrease in the plasma cortisol concentration and heart rate as measured at thermoneutrality, whilst rectal temperature increased from 4 to 30 days of age. The other 4 lambs, 3 of which died between 7 and 17 days of age, had low plasma triiodothyronine concentrations when studied at 4 and/or 14 days of age and their oxygen consumption at thermoneutrality was significantly lower than the normal group at 14 days. Shivering thermogenesis occurred at an earlier age and control of body temperature was less effective. It is concluded that triiodothyronine has an important role in the control of metabolic rate in the developing lamb even to meet modest changes in ambient temperature, and possibly directly in survival.


Journal article


Journal of Developmental Physiology

Publication Date





289 - 298