Dogmas and controversies in the handling of nitrogenous wastes: The effect of feeding and fasting on the excretion of ammonia, urea and other nitrogenous waste products in rainbow trout

Makiko Kajimura, Sara J. Croke, Chris N. Glover, Chris M. Wood

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66 Scopus citations


Ammonia and urea are the primary forms of nitrogen excretion in teleost fish. There exists, however, a discrepancy between the sum of ammonia plus urea nitrogen and total nitrogen, indicating that 'unknown' nitrogen end products may play an important role in nitrogen metabolism. The current study analysed a wide range of nitrogen end products in both fed and fasted juvenile rainbow trout. Ammonia-N (53-68%) and urea-N (6-10%) were confirmed as the most important forms of nitrogenous waste, but an interesting finding was the considerable excretion of nitrogen as amino acids (4-10%), via the gills, and as protein (3-11%), probably via the body mucus. Use of anal sutures delineated an important role for the gastrointestinal tract in the production of ammonia-N and urea-N in fed fish, but amino acid-N and protein-N output by this route were both negligible. Alternative nitrogen products - trimethylamine, trimethylamine oxide, uric acid, and nitrite + nitrate - were not excreted in detectable quantities. Creatine-N and creatinine-N outputs were detected but contributed only a small fraction to total nitrogen excretion (<1.4%). Despite the wide scope of nitrogenous end products investigated, a considerable proportion (12-20%) of nitrogen excretion remains unknown. Possible alternative end products and methodological considerations are proposed to explain this phenomenon. The findings described above were used to recalculate the nitrogen quotient (NQ=ṀN/ṀO2) on trout that had been either fasted or fed various daily rations (1%, 3% or 5% dry food per unit wet body mass per day). Feeding increased oxygen consumption (ṀO2) and total-N excretion (ṀN). The NQ is often used as a measure of protein utilisation in aerobic metabolism and assumes that all protein (and amino acid) fuels are converted by oxidation to nitrogenous waste products that are excreted. However, the results showed that calculation of the NQ based on total nitrogen excretion may overestimate protein utilisation in aerobic metabolism because of significant excretion of N in the form of proteins and amino acids, whereas the use of summed ammonia-N and urea-N excretion probably underestimates the contribution of protein towards aerobic metabolism. These errors increase as ration increases, because the discrepancy between total-N excretion and ammonia-N + urea-N excretion increases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1993-2002
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number12
StatePublished - May 1 2004



  • Amino acid
  • Fish
  • Nitrogen excretion
  • Nitrogen quotient
  • Protein

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences (miscellaneous)

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