Reactive oxygen species-induced damage of cells and molecules is one of the mechanisms responsible for the decline in an animal's performance due to heat stress. Mitochondria are the main producers of cellular superoxide, a process that is sensitive to proton motive force, and this superoxide production can be decreased by mild uncoupling. We studied the effects of heat stress on the production of mitochondrial superoxide as well as heat stress effects on the expression of avian uncoupling protein (avUCP) and avian A nucleotide translocator (avANT) in skeletal muscles of chicks and young cockerels. Male White Leghorn (Julia) chicks at 16 d and cockerels at 87 d of age were exposed to acute heat stress, 34°C for 18 h, or kept at moderate ambient temperature (25 and 21°C, respectively). There was no difference in mitochondrial superoxide production between heat-exposed and control chicks, whereas significant differences were observed in the case of young cockerels. Greater substrate-independent superoxide production was found in muscle mitochondria from heat-stressed young cockerels. In chicks, neither avUCP nor avANT transcript expression was changed by heat exposure, whereas in young cockerels avUCP transcript was decreased, but avANT transcript level was not changed. Thus, in heat-stressed young cockerels, increased mitochondrial superoxide production was accompanied by downregulation of avUCP. Taken together, these results suggest that exposure of young cockerels to heat stress stimulates mitochondrial superoxide production, possibly via downregulation of avUCP. Chicks with persistent avUCP expression, on the other hand, are relatively better adapted to high temperature. It can be assumed that appropriate expression of avUCP may alleviate overproduction of mitochondrial superoxide and could help birds adapt to oxidative stress resulting from acute heat stress.
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