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The interplay of increased urea synthesis and reduced ammonia production in the African lungfish Protopterus aethiopicus during 46 days of aestivation in a mucus cocoon.

  • Ip, Yuen Kwong
  • Yeo, Pei Jia
  • Loong, Ai May
  • Hiong, Kum Chew
  • Wong, Wai Peng
  • Chew, Shit Fun
Published Article
Journal of experimental zoology. Part A, Comparative experimental biology
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2005
PMID: 16254918


This study was undertaken to test the hypothesis that the rate of urea synthesis in Protopterus aethiopicus was up-regulated to detoxify ammonia during the initial phase of aestivation in air (day 1-day 12), and that a profound suppression of ammonia production occurred at a later phase of aestivation (day 35-day 46) which eliminated the need to sustain the increased rate of urea synthesis. Fasting apparently led to a greater rate of nitrogenous waste excretion in P. aethiopicus in water, which is an indication of increases in production of endogenous ammonia and urea probably as a result of increased proteolysis and amino acid catabolism for energy production. However, 46 days of fasting had no significant effects on the ammonia or urea contents in the muscle, liver, plasma and brain. In contrast, there were significant decreases in the muscle ammonia content in fish after 12, 34 or 46 days of aestivation in air when compared with fish fasting in water. Ammonia was apparently detoxified to urea because urea contents in the muscle, liver, plasma and brain of P. aethiopicus aestivated for 12, 34 or 46 days were significantly greater than the corresponding fasting control; the greatest increases in urea contents occurred during the initial 12 days. There were also significant increases in activities of some of the hepatic ornithine-urea cycle enzymes from fish aestivated for 12 or 46 days. Therefore, contrary to a previous report on P. aethiopicus, our results demonstrated an increase in the estimated rate of urea synthesis (2.8-fold greater than the day 0 fish) in this lungfish during the initial 12 days of aestivation. However, the estimated rate of urea synthesis decreased significantly during the next 34 days. Between day 35 and day 46 (12 days), urea synthesis apparently decreased to 42% of the day 0 control value, and this is the first report of such a phenomenon in African lungfish undergoing aestivation. On the other hand, the estimated rate of ammonia production in P. aethiopicus increased slightly (14.7%) during the initial 12 days of aestivation as compared with that in the day 0 fish. By contrast, the estimated rate of ammonia production decreased by 84% during the final 12 days of aestivation (day 35-day 46) compared with the day 0 value. Therefore, it can be concluded that P. aethiopicus depended mainly on increased urea synthesis to ameliorate ammonia toxicity during the initial phase of aestivation, but during prolonged aestivation, it suppressed ammonia production profoundly, eliminating the need to increase urea synthesis which is energy-intensive.

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