High plasma cholesterol, but low triglycerides and plaque-free arteries, in Mexican free-tailed bats

E. P. Widmaier, E. R. Gornstein, J. L. Hennessey, J. M. Bloss, J. A. Greenberg, T. H. Kunz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Female mammals typically become hyperphagic from mid- to late pregnancy and during lactation. Mexican free-tailed bats, Tadarida brasiliensis mexicana, double their nightly food intake from late pregnancy to peak lactation and consume an insect diet that is exceptionally high in fat. During late pregnancy and throughout lactation, fasting plasma levels of cholesterol in this insectivorous bat are high (215 ± 8 mg/dl) and are nearly 10-fold higher than in three species of Old World frugivorous bats. Fasting triglycerides were unexpectedly low in 77 brasiliensis (25 ± 2 mg/dl), despite evidence of high fat intake during nightly feeding bouts (postprandial cholesterol and triglycerides, 268 ± 18 and 122 ± 20 mg/dl, respectively). High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels were extraordinarily high (124 ± 5 mg/dl) and unaffected by feeding. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were correspondingly low (86 ± 7 mg/dl). This unusual plasma lipid profile was not associated with coronary or aortic atherosclerosis, nor was there evidence of hyperglycemia or hyperinsulinemia. A high-fat diet and high levels of cholesterol in T. brasiliensis are not correlated with cardiovascular disease or (possibly) insulin resistance. Among several possible factors that might account for these observations, nightly bouts of powered flight (commuting and foraging for food) may contribute to elevated HDL cholesterol, which may protect this species from developing atherosclerosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)R1101-R1106
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology
Issue number5 40-5
StatePublished - Nov 1996


  • Chiroptera
  • atherosclerosis
  • high-density lipoprotein cholesterol
  • insulin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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