The significance of Gi proteins for the physiological desensitization phenomena observed in brown-fat cells from cold-acclimated hamsters was investigated. For this purpose, pertussis toxin (the inhibitor of Gi function) was injected into control and cold-acclimated hamsters. After 3 days the thermogenic response to noradrenaline injection was monitored in the intact animals. It was found that the pertussis-toxin pretreatment did not affect the thermogenic response to noradrenaline. Nonetheless, the pertussis toxin pretreatment had a dramatic effect on the noradrenaline-sensitivity of isolated brown-fat cells (measured the following day as the respiratory response): a 250-fold-increased sensitivity to noradrenaline was observed in cells from control animals that had been pertussis-toxin pretreated. However, only a 20-fold increase was observed in cells from cold-acclimated hamsters, implying a lower complement of the Gi system in these cells. Therefore the content of Gi proteins was determined by quantitative immunoblotting of purified plasma-membrane proteins. Cold acclimation resulted in a nearly 50% reduction in the content of Gi1α and Gi2α, as well as of the β-subunit, both when expressed on a protein basis and when related to the content of forskolin-stimulated adenylyl cyclase; when expressed per unit of [3H]ouabain-binding (Na+/K+-ATPase), the reduction was even higher. In view of the magnitude of the pertussis-toxin effect, it was concluded that Gi proteins must play a substantial role in the regulation of the response of brown-fat cells to noradrenaline. As the capacity of the Gi pathway is reduced rather than augmented during cold acclimation, Gi activity cannot be responsible for the desensitization to noradrenaline observed in cells from cold-acclimated animals. However, the reduced Gi content may explain the earlier observed desensitization to adenosine that occurs after acclimation to cold.

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