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Ruminal fermentation products such as short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) and CO2 acutely stimulate urea transport across the ruminal epithelium in vivo, whereas ammonia has inhibitory effects. Uptake and signaling pathways remain obscure. The ruminal expression of SLC14a1 (UT-B) was studied using polymerase chain reaction (PCR). The functional short-term effects of ammonia on cytosolic pH (pHi) and ruminal urea transport across native epithelia were investigated using pH-sensitive microelectrodes and via flux measurements in Ussing chambers. Two variants (UT-B1 and UT-B2) could be fully sequenced from ovine ruminal cDNA. Functionally, transport was passive and modulated by luminal pH in the presence of SCFA and CO2, rising in response to luminal acidification to a peak value at pH 5.8 and dropping with further acidification, resulting in a bell-shaped curve. Presence of ammonia reduced the amplitude, but not the shape of the relationship between urea flux and pH, so that urea flux remained maximal at pH 5.8. Effects of ammonia were concentration dependent, with saturation at 5 mmol/l. Clamping the transepithelial potential altered the inhibitory potential of ammonia on urea flux. Ammonia depolarized the apical membrane and acidified pHi, suggesting that, at physiological pH (< 7), uptake of NH4 (+) into the cytosol may be a key signaling event regulating ruminal urea transport. We conclude that transport of urea across the ruminal epithelium involves proteins subject to rapid modulation by manipulations that alter pHi and the cytosolic concentration of NH4 (+). Implications for epithelial and ruminal homeostasis are discussed.