Physiological and molecular analysis of the interactive effects of feeding and high environmental ammonia on branchial ammonia excretion and Na+ uptake in freshwater rainbow trout

Alex M. Zimmer, C. Michele Nawata, Chris M. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Recently, a "Na+/NH4+ exchange complex" model has been proposed for ammonia excretion in freshwater fish. The model suggests that ammonia transport occurs via Rhesus (Rh) glycoproteins and is facilitated by gill boundary layer acidification attributable to the hydration of CO2 and H+ efflux by Na+/H+ exchanger (NHE-2) and H+-ATPase. The latter two mechanisms of boundary layer acidification would occur in conjunction with Na+ influx (through a Na+ channel energized by H+-ATPase and directly via NHE-2). Here, we show that natural ammonia loading via feeding increases branchial mRNA expression of Rh genes, NHE-2, and H+-ATPase, as well as H+-ATPase activity in juvenile trout, similar to previous findings with ammonium salt infusions and high environmental ammonia (HEA) exposure. The associated increase in ammonia excretion occurs in conjunction with a fourfold increase in Na+ influx after a meal. When exposed to HEA (1.5 mmol/l NH4HCO3 at pH 8.0), both unfed and fed trout showed differential increases in mRNA expression of Rhcg2, NHE-2, and H+-ATPase, but H+-ATPase activity remained at control levels. Unfed fish exposed to HEA displayed a characteristic reversal of ammonia excretion, initially uptaking ammonia, whereas fed fish (4 h after the meal) did not show this reversal, being able to immediately excrete ammonia against the gradient imposed by HEA. Exposure to HEA also led to a depression of Na+ influx, demonstrating that ammonia excretion can be uncoupled from Na+ influx. We suggest that the efflux of H+, rather than Na+ influx itself, is critical to the facilitation of ammonia excretion.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1191-1204
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Comparative Physiology B: Biochemical, Systemic, and Environmental Physiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Ammonia excretion
  • Feeding
  • High environmental ammonia (HEA)
  • Rainbow trout
  • Rhesus glycoproteins

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Biochemistry
  • Endocrinology


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