Sensitivity of ventilation and brain metabolism to ammonia exposure in rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss

Li Zhang, C. Michele Nawata, Chris M. Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Ammonia has been documented as a respiratory gas that stimulates ventilation, and is sensed by peripheral neuroepithelial cells (NECs) in the gills in ammoniotelic rainbow trout. However, the hyperventilatory response is abolished in trout chronically exposed (1+ months) to high environmental ammonia [HEA; 250 μmol l-1 (NH4)2SO4]. This study investigates whether the brain is involved in the acute sensitivity of ventilation to ammonia, and whether changes in brain metabolism are related to the loss of hyperventilatory responses in trout chronically exposed to HEA ('HEA trout'). Hyperventilation (via increased ventilatory amplitude rather than rate) and increased total ammonia concentration ([TAmm]) in brain tissue were induced in parallel by acute HEA exposure in control trout in a concentration-series experiment [500, 750 and 1000 μmol l-1 (NH4)2SO4], but these inductions were abolished in HEA trout. Ventilation was correlated more closely to [TAmm] in brain rather than to [TAmm] in plasma or cerebrospinal fluid. The close correlation of hyperventilation and increased brain [TAmm] also occurred in control trout acutely exposed to HEA in a time-series analysis [500 μmol l-1 (NH4)2SO4; 15, 30, 45 and 60 min], as well as in a methionine sulfoxamine (MSOX) pre-injection experiment [to inhibit glutamine synthetase (GSase)]. These correlations consistently suggest that brain [TAmm] is involved in the hyperventilatory responses to ammonia in trout. The MSOX treatments, together with measurements of GSase activity, TAmm, glutamine and glutamate concentrations in brain tissue, were conducted in both the control and HEA trout. These experiments revealed that GSase plays an important role in transferring ammonia to glutamate to make glutamine in trout brain, thereby attenuating the elevation of brain [TAmm] following HEA exposure, and that glutamate concentration is reduced in HEA trout. The mRNAs for the ammonia channel proteins Rhbg, Rhcg1 and Rhcg2 were expressed in trout brain, and the expression of Rhbg and Rhcg2 increased in HEA trout, potentially as a mechanism to facilitate the efflux of ammonia. In summary, the brain appears to be involved in the sensitivity of ventilation to ammonia, and brain ammonia levels are regulated metabolically in trout.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4025-4037
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Experimental Biology
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Ammonia
  • Brain
  • Fish
  • Glutamine synthetase
  • Rh protein
  • Ventilation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Physiology
  • Insect Science
  • Aquatic Science


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